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Full Online Book HomeEssaysRepresentative Men: Seven Lectures - Lecture I. Uses of Great Men
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Representative Men: Seven Lectures - Lecture I. Uses of Great Men Post by :IWT8898 Category :Essays Author :Ralph Waldo Emerson Date :March 2011 Read :2023

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Representative Men: Seven Lectures - Lecture I. Uses of Great Men

It is natural to believe in great men. If the companions of our
childhood should turn out to be heroes, and their condition regal, it
would not surprise us. All mythology opens with demigods, and the
circumstance is high and poetic; that is, their genius is paramount.
In the legends of the Gautama, the first men ate the earth, and found
it deliciously sweet.

Nature seems to exist for the excellent. The world is upheld by the
veracity of good men: they make the earth wholesome. They who lived
with them found life glad and nutritious. Life is sweet and tolerable
only in our belief in such society; and actually, or ideally, we manage
to live with superiors. We call our children and our lands by their
names. Their names are wrought into the verbs of language, their works
and effigies are in our houses, and every circumstance of the day
recalls an anecdote of them.

The search after the great is the dream of youth, and the most serious
occupation of manhood. We travel into foreign parts to find his
works,--if possible, to get a glimpse of him. But we are put off with
fortune instead. You say, the English are practical; the Germans are
hospitable; in Valencia, the climate is delicious; and in the hills
of Sacramento there is gold for the gathering. Yes, but I do not travel
to find comfortable, rich, and hospitable people, or clear sky, or
ingots that cost too much. But if there were any magnet that would
point to the countries and houses where are the persons who are
intrinsically rich and powerful, I would sell all, and buy it, and put
myself on the road to-day.

The race goes with us on their credit. The knowledge, that in the city
is a man who invented the railroad, raises the credit of all the
citizens. But enormous populations, if they be beggars, are disgusting,
like moving cheese, like hills of ants, or of fleas--the more, the
worse.

Our religion is the love and cherishing of these patrons. The gods of
fable are the shining moments of great men. We run all our vessels
into one mould. Our colossal theologies of Judaism, Christism, Buddhism,
Mahometism, are the necessary and structural action of the human mind.
The student of history is like a man going into a warehouse to buy
cloths or carpets. He fancies he has a new article. If he go to the
factory, he shall find that his new stuff still repeats the scrolls
and rosettes which are found on the interior walls of the pyramids of
Thebes. Our theism is the purification of the human mind. Man can
paint, or make, or think nothing but man. He believes that the great
material elements had their origin from his thought. And our philosophy
finds one essence collected or distributed.

If now we proceed to inquire into the kinds of service we derive from
others, let us be warned of the danger of modern studies, and begin
low enough. We must not contend against love, or deny the substantial
existence of other people. I know not what would happen to us. We have
social strengths. Our affection toward others creates a sort of vantage
or purchase which nothing will supply. I can do that by another which
I cannot do alone. I can say to you what I cannot first say to myself.
Other men are lenses through which we read our own minds. Each man
seeks those of different quality from his own, and such as are good
of their kind; that is, he seeks other men, and the otherest. The
stronger the nature, the more it is reactive. Let us have the quality
pure. A little genius let us leave alone. A main difference betwixt
men is, whether they attend their own affair or not. Man is that noble
endogenous plant which grows, like the palm, from within, outward. His
own affair, though impossible to others, he can open with celerity and
in sport. It is easy to sugar to be sweet, and to nitre to be salt.
We take a great deal of pains to waylay and entrap that which of itself
will fall into our hands. I count him a great man who inhabits a higher
sphere of thought, into which other men rise with labor and difficulty;
he has but to open his eyes to see things in a true light, and in large
relations; whilst they must make painful corrections, and keep a
vigilant eye on many sources of error. His service to us is of like
sort. It costs a beautiful person no exertion to paint her image on
our eyes; yet how splendid is that benefit! It costs no more for a
wise soul to convey his quality to other men. And every one can do his
best thing easiest--"_Peu de moyens, beaucoup d'effet._" He is great who
is what he is from nature, and who never reminds us of others.

But he must be related to us, and our life receive from him some promise
of explanation. I cannot tell what I would know; but I have observed
there are persons, who, in their character and actions, answer questions
which I have not skill to put. One man answers some questions which
none of his contemporaries put, and is isolated. The past and passing
religions and philosophies answer some other question. Certain men
affect us as rich possibilities, but helpless to themselves and to
their times,--the sport, perhaps, of some instinct that rules in the
air;--they do not speak to our want. But the great are near: we know
them at sight. They satisfy expectation, and fall into place. What is
good is effective, generative; makes for itself room, food, and allies.
A sound apple produces seed,--a hybrid does not. Is a man in his place,
he is constructive, fertile, magnetic, inundating armies with his
purpose, which is thus executed. The river makes its own shores, and
each legitimate idea makes its own channels and welcome,--harvest for
food, institutions for expression, weapons to fight with, and disciples
to explain it. The true artist has the planet for his pedestal; the
adventurer, after years of strife, has nothing broader than his own
shoes.

Our common discourse respects two kinds of use of service from superior
men. Direct giving is agreeable to the early belief of men; direct
giving of material or metaphysical aid, as of health, eternal youth,
fine senses, arts of healing, magical power, and prophecy. The boy
believes there is a teacher who can sell him wisdom. Churches believe
in imputed merit. But, in strictness, we are not much cognizant of
direct serving. Man is endogenous, and education is his unfolding. The
aid we have from others is mechanical, compared with the discoveries
of nature in us. What is thus learned is delightful in the doing, and
the effect remains. Right ethics are central, and go from the soul
outward. Gift is contrary to the law of the universe. Serving others
is serving us. I must absolve me to myself. "Mind thy affair," says
the spirit:--"coxcomb, would you meddle with the skies, or with other
people?" Indirect service is left. Men have a pictorial or
representative quality, and serve us in the intellect. Behmen and
Swedenborg saw that things were representative. Men are also
representative; first, of things, and secondly, of ideas.

As plants convert the minerals into food for animals, so each man
converts some raw material in nature to human use. The inventors of
fire, electricity, magnetism, iron; lead, glass, linen, silk, cotton;
the makers of tools; the inventor of decimal notation; the geometer;
the engineer; musician,--severally make an easy way for all, through
unknown and impossible confusions. Each man is, by secret liking,
connected with some district of nature, whose agent and interpreter
he is, as Linnaeus, of plants; Huber, of bees; Fries, of lichens; Van
Mons, of pears; Dalton, of atomic forms; Euclid, of lines; Newton, of
fluxions.

A man is a center for nature, running out threads of relation through
everything, fluid and solid, material and elemental. The earth rolls;
every clod and stone comes to the meridian; so every organ, function,
acid, crystal, grain of dust, has its relation to the brain. It waits
long, but its turn comes. Each plant has its parasite, and each created
thing its lover and poet. Justice has already been done to steam, to
iron, to wood, to coal, to loadstone, to iodine, to corn, and cotton;
but how few materials are yet used by our arts! The mass of creatures
and of qualities are still hid and expectant. It would seem as if each
waited, like the enchanted princess in fairy tales, for a destined
human deliverer. Each must be disenchanted, and walk forth to the day
in human shape. In the history of discovery, the ripe and latent truth
seems to have fashioned a brain for itself. A magnet must be made man,
in some Gilbert, or Swedenborg, or Oersted, before the general mind
can come to entertain its powers.

If we limit ourselves to the first advantages;--a sober grace adheres
to the mineral and botanic kingdoms, which, in the highest moments,
comes up as the charm of nature,--the glitter of the spar, the sureness
of affinity, the veracity of angles. Light and darkness, heat and cold,
hunger and food, sweet and sour, solid, liquid, and gas, circle us
round in a wreath of pleasures, and, by their agreeable quarrel, beguile
the day of life. The eye repeats every day the finest eulogy on
things--"He saw that they were good." We know where to find them; and
these performers are relished all the more, after a little experience
of the pretending races. We are entitled, also, to higher advantages.
Something is wanting to science, until it has been humanized. The table
of logarithms is one thing, and its vital play, in botany, music,
optics, and architecture, another. There are advancements to numbers,
anatomy, architecture, astronomy, little suspected at first, when, by
union with intellect and will, they ascend into the life, and re-appear
in conversation, character and politics.

But this comes later. We speak now only of our acquaintance with them
in their own sphere, and the way in which they seem to fascinate and
draw to them some genius who occupies himself with one thing, all his
life long. The possibility of interpretation lies in the identity of
the observer with the observed. Each material thing has its celestial
side; has its translation, through humanity, into the spiritual and
necessary sphere, where it plays a part as indestructible as any other.
And to these, their ends, all things continually ascend. The gases
gather to the solid firmament; the chemic lump arrives at the plant,
and grows; arrives at the quadruped, and walks; arrives at the man,
and thinks. But also the constituency determines the vote of the
representative. He is not only representative, but participant. Like
can only be known by like. The reason why he knows about them is, that
he is of them; he has just come out of nature, or from being a part
of that thing. Animated chlorine knows of chlorine, and incarnate zinc,
of zinc. Their quality makes this career; and he can variously publish
their virtues, because they compose him. Man, made of the dust of the
world, does not forget his origin; and all that is yet inanimate will
one day speak and reason. Unpublished nature will have its whole secret
told. Shall we say that quartz mountains will pulverize into innumerable
Werners, Von Buchs, and Beaumonts; and the laboratory of the atmosphere
holds in solution I know not what Berzeliuses and Davys?

Thus, we sit by the fire, and take hold on the poles of the earth.
This quasi omnipresence supplies the imbecility of our condition. In
one of those celestial days, when heaven and earth meet and adorn each
other, it seems a poverty that we can only spend it once; we wish for
a thousand heads, a thousand bodies, that we might celebrate its immense
beauty in many ways and places. Is this fancy? Well, in good faith,
we are multiplied by our proxies. How easily we adopt their labors!
Every ship that comes to America got its chart from Columbus. Every
novel is debtor to Homer. Every carpenter who shaves with a foreplane
borrows the genius of a forgotten inventor. Life is girt all around
with a zodiac of sciences, the contributions of men who have perished
to add their point of light to our sky. Engineer, broker, jurist,
physician, moralist, theologian, and every man, inasmuch as he has any
science, is a definer and map-maker of the latitudes and longitudes
of our condition. These road-makers on every hand enrich us. We must
extend the area of life, and multiply our relations. We are as much
gainers by finding a new property in the old earth, as by acquiring
a new planet.

We are too passive in the reception of these material or semi-material
aids. We must not be sacks and stomachs. To ascend one step,--we are
better served through our sympathy. Activity is contagious. Looking
where others look, and conversing with the same things, we catch the
charm which lured them. Napoleon said, "you must not fight too often
with one enemy, or you will teach him all your art of war." Talk much
with any man of vigorous mind, and we acquire very fast the habit of
looking at things in the same light, and, on each occurrence, we
anticipate his thought.

Men are helpful through the intellect and the affections. Other help,
I find a false appearance. If you affect to give me bread and fire,
I perceive that I pay for it the full price, and at last it leaves me
as it found me, neither better nor worse: but all mental and moral
force is a positive good. It goes out from you whether you will or
not, and profits me whom you never thought of. I cannot even hear of
personal vigor of any kind, great power of performance, without fresh
resolution. We are emulous of all that man can do. Cecil's saying of
Sir Walter Raleigh, "I know that he can toil terribly," is an electric
touch. So are Clarendon's portraits,--of Hampden; "who was of an
industry and vigilance not to be tired out or wearied by the most
laborious, and of parts not to be imposed on by the most subtle and
sharp, and of a personal courage equal to his best parts"--of Falkland;
"who was so severe an adorer of truth, that he could as easily have
given himself leave to steal, as to dissemble." We cannot read Plutarch,
without a tingling of the blood; and I accept the saying of the Chinese
Mencius: "As age is the instructor of a hundred ages. When the manners
of Loo are heard of, the stupid become intelligent, and the wavering,
determined."

This is the moral of biography; yet it is hard for departed men to
touch the quick like our own companions, whose names may not last as
long. What is he whom I never think of? whilst in every solitude are
those who succor our genius, and stimulate us in wonderful manners.
There is a power in love to divine another's destiny better than that
other can, and by heroic encouragements, hold him to his task. What
has friendship so signaled as its sublime attraction to whatever virtue
is in us? We will never more think cheaply of ourselves, or of life.
We are piqued to some purpose, and the industry of the diggers on the
railroad will not again shame us.

Under this head, too, falls that homage, very pure, as I think, which
all ranks pay to the hero of the day, from Coriolanus and Gracchus,
down to Pitt, Lafayette, Wellington, Webster, Lamartine. Hear the
shouts in the street! The people cannot see him enough. They delight
in a man. Here is a head and a trunk! What a front! What eyes! Atlantean
shoulders, and the whole carriage heroic, with equal inward force to
guide the great machine! This pleasure of full expression to that
which, in their private experience, is usually cramped and obstructed,
runs, also, much higher, and is the secret of the reader's joy in
literary genius. Nothing is kept back. There is fire enough to fuse
the mountain of ore. Shakspeare's principal merit may be conveyed, in
saying that he, of all men, best understands the English language, and
can say what he will. Yet these unchoked channels and floodgates of
expression are only health or fortunate constitution. Shakspeare's
name suggests other and purely intellectual benefits.

Senates and sovereigns have no compliment, with their medals, swords,
and armorial coats, like the addressing to a human being thoughts out
of a certain height, and presupposing his intelligence. This honor,
which is possible in personal intercourse scarcely twice in a lifetime,
genius perpetually pays; contented, if now and then, in a century, the
proffer is accepted. The indicators of the values of matter are degraded
to a sort of cooks and confectioners, on the appearance of the
indicators of ideas. Genius is the naturalist or geographer of the
supersensible regions, and draws on their map; and, by acquainting us
with new fields of activity, cools our affection for the old. These
are at once accepted as the reality, of which the world we have
conversed with is the show.

We go to the gymnasium and the swimming-school to see the power and
beauty of the body; there is the like pleasure, and a higher benefit,
from witnessing intellectual feats of all kinds; as, feats of memory,
of mathematical combination, great power of abstraction, the
transmutings of the imagination, even versatility, and concentration,
as these acts expose the invisible organs and members of the mind,
which respond, member for member, to the parts of the body. For, we
thus enter a new gymnasium, and learn to choose men by their truest
marks, taught, with Plato, "to choose those who can, without aid from
the eyes, or any other sense, proceed to truth and to being." Foremost
among these activities, are the summersaults, spells, and resurrections,
wrought by the imagination. When this wakes, a man seems to multiply
ten times or a thousand times his force. It opens the delicious sense
of indeterminate size, and inspires an audacious mental habit. We are
as elastic as the gas of gunpowder, and a sentence in a book, or a
word dropped in conversation, sets free our fancy, and instantly our
heads are bathed with galaxies, and our feet tread the floor of the
Pit. And this benefit is real, because we are entitled to these
enlargements, and, once having passed the bounds, shall never again
be quite the miserable pedants we were.

The high functions of the intellect are so allied, that some imaginative
power usually appears in all eminent minds, even in arithmeticians of
the first class, but especially in meditative men of an intuitive habit
of thought. This class serve us, so that they have the perception of
identity and the perception of reaction. The eyes of Plato, Shakespeare,
Swedenborg, Goethe, never shut on either of these laws. The perception
of these laws is a kind of metre of the mind. Little minds are little,
through failure to see them.

Even these feasts have their surfeit. Our delight in reason degenerates
into idolatry of the herald. Especially when a mind of powerful method
has instructed men, we find the examples of oppression. The dominion
of Aristotle, the Ptolemaic astronomy, the credit of Luther, of Bacon,
of Locke,--in religion the history of hierarchies, of saints, and the
sects which have taken the name of each founder, are in point. Alas!
every man is such a victim. The imbecility of men is always inviting
the impudence of power. It is the delight of vulgar talent to dazzle
and to bind the beholder. But true genius seeks to defend us from
itself. True genius will not impoverish, but will liberate, and add
new senses. If a wise man should appear in our village, he would create,
in those who conversed with him, a new consciousness of wealth, by
opening their eyes to unobserved advantages; he would establish a sense
of immovable equality, calm us with assurances that we could not be
cheated; as every one would discern the checks and guaranties of
condition. The rich would see their mistakes and poverty, the poor
their escapes and their resources.

But nature brings all this about in due time. Rotation is her remedy.
The soul is impatient of masters, and eager for change. Housekeepers
say of a domestic who has been valuable, "She has lived with me long
enough." We are tendencies, or rather, symptoms, and none of us
complete. We touch and go, and sip the foam of many lives. Rotation
is the law of nature. When nature removes a great man, people explore
the horizon for a successor; but none comes and none will. His class
is extinguished with him. In some other and quite different field, the
next man will appear; not Jefferson, nor Franklin, but now a great
salesman; then a road-contractor; then a student of fishes; then a
buffalo-hunting explorer, or a semi-savage western general. Thus we
make a stand against our rougher masters; but against the best there
is a finer remedy. The power which they communicate is not theirs.
When we are exalted by ideas, we do not owe this to Plato, but to the
idea, to which, also, Plato was debtor.

I must not forget that we have a special debt to a single class. Life
is a scale of degrees. Between rank and rank of our great men are wide
intervals. Mankind have, in all ages, attached themselves to a few
persons, who, either by the quality of that idea they embodied, or by
the largeness of their reception, were entitled to the position of
leaders and law-givers. These teach us the qualities of primary
nature,--admit us to the constitution of things. We swim, day by day,
on a river of delusions, and are effectually amused with houses and
towns in the air, of which the men about us are dupes. But life is a
sincerity. In lucid intervals we say, "Let there be an entrance opened
for me into realities; I have worn the fool's cap too long." We will
know the meaning of our economies and politics. Give us the cipher,
and, if persons and things are scores of a celestial music, let us
read off the strains. We have been cheated of our reason; yet there
have been sane men, who enjoyed a rich and related existence. What
they know, they know for us. With each new mind, a new secret of nature
transpires; nor can the Bible be closed, until the last great man is
born. These men correct the delirium of the animal spirits, make us
considerate, and engage us to new aims and powers. The veneration of
mankind selects these for the highest place. Witness the multitude of
statues, pictures, and memorials which recall their genius in every
city, village, house, and ship:--

"Ever their phantoms arise before us.
Our loftier brothers, but one in blood;
At bed and table they lord it o'er us,
With looks of beauty, and words of good."

How to illustrate the distinctive benefit of ideas, the service rendered
by those who introduce moral truths into the general mind?--I am
plagued, in all my living, with a perpetual tariff of prices. If I
work in my garden, and prune an apple-tree, I am well enough
entertained, and could continue indefinitely in the like occupation.
But it comes to mind that a day is gone, and I have got this precious
nothing done. I go to Boston or New York, and run up and down on my
affairs: they are sped, but so is the day. I am vexed by the
recollection of this price I have paid for a trifling advantage. I
remember the _peau d'ane_, on which whoso sat should have his desire,
but a piece of the skin was gone for every wish. I go to a convention of
philanthropists. Do what I can, I cannot keep my eyes off the clock. But
if there should appear in the company some gentle soul who knows little
of persons or parties, of Carolina or Cuba, but who announces a law that
disposes these particulars, and so certifies me of the equity which
checkmates every false player, bankrupts every self-seeker, and apprises
me of my independence on any conditions of country, or time, or human
body, that man liberates me; I forget the clock.

I pass out of the sore relation to persons. I am healed of my hurts.
I am made immortal by apprehending my possession of incorruptible
goods. Here is great competition of rich and poor. We live in a market,
where is only so much wheat, or wool, or land; and if I have so much
more, every other must have so much less. I seem to have no good,
without breach of good manners. Nobody is glad in the gladness of
another, and our system is one of war, of an injurious superiority.
Every child of the Saxon race is educated to wish to be first. It is
our system; and a man comes to measure his greatness by the regrets,
envies, and hatreds of his competitors. But in these new fields there
is room: here are no self-esteems, no exclusions.

I admire great men of all classes, those who stand for facts, and for
thoughts; I like rough and smooth "Scourges of God," and "Darlings of
the human race." I like the first Caesar; and Charles V., of Spain;
and Charles XII., of Sweden; Richard Plantagenet; and Bonaparte, in
France. I applaud a sufficient man, an officer, equal to his office;
captains, ministers, senators. I like a master standing firm on legs
of iron, well-born, rich, handsome, eloquent, loaded with advantages,
drawing all men by fascination into tributaries and supporters of his
power. Sword and staff, or talents sword-like or staff-like, carry on
the work of the world. But I find him greater, when he can abolish
himself, and all heroes, by letting in this element of reason,
irrespective of persons; this subtilizer, and irresistible upward
force, into our thought, destroying individualism; the power so great,
that the potentate is nothing. Then he is a monarch, who gives a
constitution to his people; a pontiff, who preaches the equality of
souls, and releases his servants from their barbarous homages; an
emperor, who can spare his empire.

But I intended to specify, with a little minuteness, two or three
points of service. Nature never spares the opium or nepenthe; but
wherever she mars her creature with some deformity or defect, lays her
poppies plentifully on the bruise, and the sufferer goes joyfully
through life, ignorant of the ruin, and incapable of seeing it, though
all the world point their finger at it every day. The worthless and
offensive members of society, whose existence is a social pest,
invariably think themselves the most ill-used people alive, and never
get over their astonishment at the ingratitude and selfishness of their
contemporaries. Our globe discovers its hidden virtues, not only in
heroes and archangels, but in gossips and nurses. Is it not a rare
contrivance that lodged the due inertia in every creature, the
conserving, resisting energy, the anger at being waked or changed?
Altogether independent of the intellectual force in each, is the pride
of opinion, the security that we are right. Not the feeblest grandame,
not a mowing idiot, but uses what spark of perception and faculty is
left, to chuckle and triumph in his or her opinion over the absurdities
of all the rest. Difference from me is the measure of absurdity. Not
one has a misgiving of being wrong. Was it not a bright thought that
made things cohere with this bitumen, fastest of cements? But, in the
midst of this chuckle of self-gratulation, some figure goes by, which
Thersites too can love and admire. This is he that should marshal us
the way we were going. There is no end to his aid. Without Plato, we
should almost lose our faith in the possibility of a reasonable book.
We seem to want but one, but we want one. We love to associate with
heroic persons, since our receptivity is unlimited; and, with the
great, our thoughts and manners easily become great. We are all wise
in capacity, though so few in energy. There needs but one wise man in
a company, and all are wise, so rapid is the contagion.

Great men are thus a collyrium to clear our eyes from egotism, and
enable us to see other people and their works. But there are vices and
follies incident to whole populations and ages. Men resemble their
contemporaries, even more than their progenitors. It is observed in
old couples, or in persons who have been housemates for a course of
years, that they grow alike; and, if they should live long enough, we
should not be able to know them apart. Nature abhors these
complaisances, which threaten to melt the world into a lump, and hastens
to break up such maudlin agglutinations. The like assimilation goes
on between men of one town, of one sect, of one political party; and
the ideas of the time are in the air, and infect all who breathe it.
Viewed from any high point, the city of New York, yonder city of London,
the western civilization, would seem a bundle of insanities. We keep
each other in countenance, and exasperate by emulation the frenzy of
the time. The shield against the stingings of conscience, is the
universal practice, or our contemporaries. Again; it is very easy to
be as wise and good as your companions. We learn of our contemporaries,
what they know, without effort, and almost through the pores of the
skin. We catch it by sympathy, or, as a wife arrives at the intellectual
and moral elevations of her husband. But we stop where they stop. Very
hardly can we take another step. The great, or such as hold of nature,
and transcend fashions, by their fidelity to universal ideas, are
saviors from these federal errors, and defend us from our
contemporaries. They are the exceptions which we want, where all grows
alike. A foreign greatness is the antidote for cabalism.

Thus we feed on genius, and refresh ourselves from too much conversation
with our mates, and exult in the depth of nature in that direction in
which he leads us. What indemnification is one great man for populations
of pigmies! Every mother wishes one son a genius, though all the rest
should be mediocre. But a new danger appears in the excess of influence
of the great man. His attractions warp us from our place. We have
become underlings and intellectual suicides. Ah! yonder in the horizon
is our help:--other great men, new qualities, counterweights and
checks on each other. We cloy of the honey of each peculiar greatness.
Every hero becomes a bore at last. Perhaps Voltaire was not bad-hearted,
yet he said of the good Jesus, even, "I pray you, let me never hear
that man's name again." They cry up the virtues of George
Washington,--"Damn George Washington!" is the poor Jacobin's whole
speech and confutation. But it is human nature's indispensable defense.
The centripetence augments the centrifugence. We balance one man with
his opposite, and the health of the state depends on the see-saw.

There is, however, a speedy limit to the use of heroes. Every genius
is defended from approach by quantities of availableness. They are
very attractive, and seem at a distance our own: but we are hindered
on all sides from approach. The more we are drawn, the more we are
repelled. There is something not solid in the good that is done for
us. The best discovery the discoverer makes for himself. It has
something unreal for his companion, until he too has substantiated it.
It seems as if the Deity dressed each soul which he sends into nature
in certain virtues and powers not communicable to other men, and,
sending it to perform one more turn through the circle of beings, wrote
"Not transferable," and "Good for this trip only," on these garments
of the soul. There is somewhat deceptive about the intercourse of
minds. The boundaries are invisible, but they are never crossed. There
is such good will to impart, and such good will to receive, that each
threatens to become the other; but the law of individuality collects
its secret strength: you are you, and I am I, and so we remain.

For Nature wishes every thing to remain itself; and, whilst every
individual strives to grow and exclude, and to exclude and grow, to
the extremities of the universe, and to impose the law of its being
on every other creature, Nature steadily aims to protect each against
every other. Each is self-defended. Nothing is more marked than the
power by which individuals are guarded from individuals, in a world
where every benefactor becomes so easily a malefactor, only by
continuation of his activity into places where it is not due; where
children seem so much at the mercy of their foolish parents, and where
almost all men are too social and interfering. We rightly speak of the
guardian angels of children. How superior in their security from
infusions of evil persons, from vulgarity and second thought! They
shed their own abundant beauty on the objects they behold. Therefore,
they are not at the mercy of such poor educators as we adults. If we
huff and chide them, they soon come not to mind it, and get a
self-reliance; and if we indulge them to folly, they learn the
limitation elsewhere.

We need not fear excessive influence. A more generous trust is
permitted. Serve the great. Stick at no humiliation. Grudge no office
thou canst render. Be the limb of their body, the breath of their
mouth. Compromise thy egotism. Who cares for that, so thou gain aught
wider and nobler? Never mind the taunt of Boswellism: the devotion may
easily be greater than the wretched pride which is guarding its own
skirts. Be another: not thyself, but a Platonist; not a soul, but a
Christian; not a naturalist, but a Cartesian; not a poet, but a
Shakspearian. In vain, the wheels of tendency will not stop, nor will
all the forces of inertia, fear, or love itself, hold thee there. On,
and forever onward! The microscope observes a monad or wheel-insect
among the infusories circulating in water. Presently, a dot appears
on the animal, which enlarges to a slit, and it becomes two perfect
animals. The ever-proceeding detachment appears not less in all thought,
and in society. Children think they cannot live without their parents.
But, long before they are aware of it, the black dot has appeared, and
the detachment taken place. Any accident will now reveal to them their
independence.

But great men:--the word is injurious. Is there caste? is there fate?
What becomes of the promise to virtue? The thoughtful youth laments
the superfoetation of nature. "Generous and handsome," he says, "is
your hero; but look at yonder poor Paddy, whose country is his
wheelbarrow; look at his whole nation of Paddies." Why are the masses,
from the dawn of history down, food for knives and powder? The idea
dignifies a few leaders, who have sentiment, opinion, love,
self-devotion; and they make war and death sacred;--but what for the
wretches whom they hire and kill? The cheapness of man is every day's
tragedy. It is as real a loss that others should be low, as that we
should be low; for we must have society.

Is it a reply to these suggestions, to say, society is a Pestalozzian
school; all are teachers and pupils in turn. We are equally served by
receiving and by imparting. Men who know the same things, are not long
the best company for each other. But bring to each an intelligent
person of another experience, and it is as if you let off water from
a lake, by cutting a lower basin. It seems a mechanical advantage, and
great benefit it is to each speaker, as he can now paint out his thought
to himself. We pass very fast, in our personal moods, from dignity to
dependence. And if any appear never to assume the chair, but always
to stand and serve, it is because we do not see the company in a
sufficiently long period for the whole rotation of parts to come about.
As to what we call the masses, and common men;--there are no common
men. All men are at last of a size; and true art is only possible, on
the conviction that every talent has its apotheosis somewhere. Fair
play, and an open field, and freshest laurels to all who have won them!
But heaven reserves an equal scope for every creature. Each is uneasy
until he has produced his private ray unto the concave sphere, and
beheld his talent also in its last nobility and exaltation.

The heroes of the hour are relatively great: of a faster growth; or
they are such, in whom, at the moment of success, a quality is ripe
which is then in request. Other days will demand other qualities. Some
rays escape the common observer, and want a finely adapted eye. Ask
the great man if there be none greater. His companions are; and not
the less great, but the more, that society cannot see them. Nature
never sends a great man into the planet, without confiding the secret
to another soul.

One gracious fact emerges from these studies,--that there is true
ascension in our love. The reputations of the nineteenth century will
one day be quoted to prove its barbarism. The genius of humanity is
the real subject whose biography is written in our annals. We must
infer much, and supply many chasms in the record. The history of the
universe is symptomatic, and life is mnemonical. No man, in all the
procession of famous men, is reason or illumination, or that essence
we were looking for; but is an exhibition, in some quarter, of new
possibilities. Could we one day complete the immense figure which these
flagrant points compose! The study of many individuals leads us to an
elemental region wherein the individual is lost, or wherein all touch
by their summits. Thought and feeling, that break out there, cannot
be impounded by any fence of personality. This is the key to the power
of the greatest men,--their spirit diffuses itself. A new quality of
mind travels by night and by day, in concentric circles from its origin,
and publishes itself by unknown methods: the union of all minds appears
intimate: what gets admission to one, cannot be kept out of any other:
the smallest acquisition of truth or of energy, in any quarter, is so
much good to the commonwealth of souls. If the disparities of talent
and position vanish, when the individuals are seen in the duration
which is necessary to complete the career of each; even more swiftly
the seeming injustice disappears, when we ascend to the central identity
of all the individuals, and know that they are made of the same
substance which ordaineth and doeth.

The genius of humanity is the right point of view of history. The
qualities abide; the men who exhibit them have now more, now less, and
pass away; the qualities remain on another brow. No experience is more
familiar. Once you saw phoenixes: they are gone; the world is not
therefore disenchanted. The vessels on which you read sacred emblems
turn out to be common pottery; but the sense of the pictures is sacred,
and you may still read them transferred to the walls of the world. For
a time, our teachers serve us personally, as metres or milestones of
progress. Once they were angels of knowledge, and their figures touched
the sky. Then we drew near, saw their means, culture, and limits; and
they yielded their places to other geniuses. Happy, if a few names
remain so high, that we have not been able to read them nearer, and
age and comparison have not robbed them of a ray. But, at last, we
shall cease to look in men for completeness, and shall content ourselves
with their social and delegated quality. All that respects the
individual is temporary and prospective, like the individual himself,
who is ascending out of his limits, into a catholic existence. We have
never come at the true and best benefit of any genius, so long as we
believe him an original force. In the moment when he ceases to help
us as a cause, he begins to help us move as an effect. Then he appears
as an exponent of a vaster mind and will. The opaque self becomes
transparent with the light of the First Cause.

Yet, within the limits of human education and agency, we may say, great
men exist that there may be greater men. The destiny of organized
nature is amelioration, and who can tell its limits? It is for man to
tame the chaos; on every side, whilst he lives, to scatter the seeds
of science and of song, that climate, corn, animals, men, may be milder,
and the germs of love and benefit may be multiplied.

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