« 이전계속 »
Would we gain wide views, we must seek the highest summits, and look through the optic glass of the best artists. We must sit at the feet of the great teachers, think their thoughts, feel their deep impulses, look out from their heights, both before and after, and see how far the one unbroken race, the genus man, has made advance in the line of true development.
As they who were the free instruments of God in giving us a Revelation, spoke as they were moved by the Holy Ghost, so they who have uttered the most of human wisdom spoke as they were moved by the spirit of humanity. There were many prophets, but their visions were not all recorded, the Divine hand gathering up only what the world needed, as inclusive of all the rest. So what was best uttered, what had most comprehensiveness, vigor, truth and beauty, what had the most vital worth and the finest, fullest verbal expression, the instinct of the race has handed down to us. If we do not know what the one human race has thought and felt in the days of its excited struggles, and in the halcyon hours of its repose, we shall neither enter into a full sympathy with its life, nor do our part in meeting its demands. Our ignorance will keep us in a partial isolation.
Literature not only harmonizes, it nourishes patriotism. It is impossible to surrender ourselves up to the power of those who write upon the deepest themes of our common humanity, in words of vigor and life, with the additional fascination of harınony of number or of rhythm, and not be kindled by their fires. All of the world's great oracles, no matter in what tongue they address their fellow-men, whether they at once have gained the general ear, or have had to wait until the coming generations for a listening audience, are full of ardor and affection for their native soil. Their hearts yearn toward their country and their countrymen. However wide their views and broad their utterances, their fulness and majesty are heightened when these interests awake the energies of their souls. However ardent their love for the liberty of all, their love for the liberty of their own land beams with a brighter, purer flame. If the Italian sings " Bella e liberta,” it is liberty for Italy. If liberty, political, social and religious, is dear to Milton, it is for England and for Englishmen. When Wordsworth rouses us most with a clarion blast, it is for England's victories. When Burns subdues us most, it is when his lines are fragrant with Scotland's own blossoms, and melodious with the sound of her own swift streams. Nationality is as essential an element in literature as individuality. The writer must not only speak for humanity with his own clear and peculiar utterances; he must speak for his own people and in his own mother tongue. He must be so penetrated with the flavor of the soil on which he grew, that the elimination of that flavor would be the destruction of the germ and fibre of all he writes. His style must have the raciness of his country's honest idioms. We know that this is so. Shakespeare could never have gained the sovereignty over the literature of the world, had not every page the vital throb of unmistakeable English life. It does the heart good to read his patriotic bursts, of which his historic plays are full.
We are moved by no writers as by those who "show the mettle of their own pastures.” The spirit of their own people must speak if they would receive our homage. When patriotism fires them, patriotism will fire us, if we yield ourselves as we should to their generous ardor. Do we need historic proof of such a magnificent use of literature? The chosen spots in Germany where the patriotic impulses are most profoundly felt, are the universities, where they quaff the deepest draughts from the pure, perennial streams which may have sprung up in other lands, but they flow on, like the four streams of Eden, to water the earth. The colleges of our own land have shown the most unsullied patriotism. Professors and students in our own land have shown what intellectual diet fed them, as they left behind the material and grosser element of their books, and carried their spiritual and imperishable essence into the field of battle. Our revolutionary patriots had this healthy nutriment. Witness the will of the father of the late Josiah Quincy: "I leave to my son Josiah, when he shall attain the age of fifteen, the works of Algernon Sidney, John Locke and Lord Bacon, Gordon's Tacitus, and Cato's Letters; and may the Spirit of Liberty abide upon him."
Another function of the literature we would magnify, is to vitalize. It is a very common remark that many public men, as lawyers, editors, teachers and others, as they advance in years, show less and less of the healthy, pleasing vigor that gave to their earlier intellectual products much of their attractiveness. The sermons are dryer and duller, although they may be more compact with abstract thought. The lawyer's brief may be clear, but his speeches are cold and heavy. The teacher, who clothed the abstractions of language and logic with the dress of life, has subsided to the position of a dry imparter of dry systems and dead rules. The bones of paleontology have become very dry. There is no soul, now, under those ribs of death. The continuance in the old routine, with no visits to " fresh fields and pastures new," has had its slow and sure effect. All professional men must grow dull, abstract and skeletonlike, unless they are ever renewing their intellectual youth by a frequent and sympathetic recurrence to those great teachers of mankind whose thoughts are always young. Study of these authors, for the sake of criticism and analysis, will not do. There must be the genial, receptive surrender to their influences which marked the early perusal. Such an acquaintance will ever be detecting new beauties. The trained and affectionate eye will see hidden depths of meaning, where before it had only glanced upon the surface. Coming back again and again, like Antæus to the earth, they will renew their strength. and water-courses for the irrigation of the world, those mountain peaks that are perpetual landmarks to those who are far at sea, those summits, where "of pure now purer air mects the approach,” we shall lose the taste of truth, as it bursts from its fountains.
It is very strange that, among the very men whose professed object in life is the presentation of religious truth to men, so that old and young may be effected by it, there should be not only an indifference to, but a contemptuous disparagement of, the only means that can accomplish their object, that is : truth presented to the intellect, the will, the sensibilities and the imagiination, in a living form. They avoid life as if it were death itself. They speak disparagingly of those who have it. But alas ! they are in error. The race is always young, and full of vitality. To be moved aright, it must have its true cravings met. It demands the fundamental truths that are as old as the dawn of the race, but it must have them in vital, rounded and youthful forms. It asks for the same kind of air and water that Adam breathed and drank, but it must be running water and oxygenated air. Unless we go back to the Alpine men whom nature has appeared to furnish the beginnings of river-systems
To pay no attention to the perfect forms into which human thought has crystalized, while we are working away at our editorials and sermons, with the desire of influencing men, is as great an absurdity as it would be for the sculptor ever to be chiselling his marble without a look at the dimpled limbs and graceful movements of young children, or the developed strength and beauty of riper age. We need the impulses that come from comparison. We need to know what is a healthy growth. We are acquainted with ministers who will write a great many sermons — good men they are. They read very little. They have a poor opinion of style. They think clearly, and suppose that that is all that they need do. If they ever read the master-pieces of sacred oratory, they speak contemptuously of them, calling them florid, popular. It is true, they are florid, but not in an offensive sense; only as they are adapted to living, breathing men who have blood in their veins, light in their eyes and color on their cheeks. They have what they ought to have, color, life, energy. If these critics were making arithmetics, they ought to make them dry, but sermons should not be modelled after such a standard.
These critics are right, in calling those productions popular. That was what they were designed to be. They were addressed to the people for present moral effect. We wish all who preach, could preach such" popular” sermons.
This evil might be corrected in a great degree by the right use of the highest literature. A full appreciation of the masters in theological literature alone must impart health and vigor. Calvin's Institutes and Commentaries, for example, are all alive. Every paragraph has the glow of health. The blood runs through every line. Thoughts the most subtile or profound are suggested to the mind by striking imagery. The sentences sparkle. They have brilliant fiery points.
To the dull and the dry and the lifeless, such works would be as efficacious as were the bones of the prophet Elisha to the dead man who was cast into his sepulchre. They would revive them and cause them to stand upon their feet.
Further, let us notice the power that literature has to give repose. When we are wearied by the toils of the day, and by jarring contact with selfish men, when we are fatigued by the stirring scenes through which we are passing, when we are exasperated by traitorous words around us, and depressed by our present anxieties and by our hopes deferred, we can withdraw to other society and listen to other words, and to wiser men. We can forget the reports of " Correspondents,” and listen to the truthful chronicles of Froissart or Stowe. We can turn from our anxious survey of the lines and trenches at the front where brothers and friends are lying in heroic endurance, and think of Thermopylæ where Greek awaited Persian. We can cease our indignation as we have read of Semmes and the leaders of piratic crews, and read of Drake and Raleigh, of Nelson and Decatur. We can close the exciting pages of contemporary history, and find a calmness of mind as we read how Cromwell fought and reigned. We can leave the speculations of the present, and quiet our spirits with the minstrelsy and fiction of the good Sir Walter. The price of gold is forgotten as we read the Urn Burial of Sir Thomas Browne. Rumors of raids and invasions no longer disturb us, as we learn how Birnam wood came to Dunsinane. Lord Russell's or Secretary Seward's despatches are temporarily sealed with oblivion as we are borne along by the fascinating tide of Bolingbroke's letters. We can leave the questions of finance, of politics, of reconstruction, of foreign policy, of future wars, for time to settle, as we give the hour to Bossuet, to lawthorne or De Quincey. We can ask Hooker to speak to us of her, " whose seat is the bosom of God, whose voice is the harmony of the world.” Coleridge can enlarge our conceptions of men and Deity. Wordsworth can interpret to us what nature teaches. The world is all before us where to choose. And as we take the wisest and the best to be our companions, and as we utter not a word to all they tell us, uttering better thoughts than we are used to and in a better way, their calm serenity raises us above the smoke and stir of earth, and their perfect harmonies soothe and restore.