AND OTHER ESSAYS
F. H. H E D G E,
AUTHOR OF REASON IN RELIGION, PRIMEVAL
WORLD OF HEBREW TRADITION,
WAYS OF THE SPIRIT, ATHEISM IN PHILOSOPHY, HOURS WITH
GERMAN CLASSICS, ETC.
CONSERVATISM AND REFORM. (1843)
AN ORATION DELIVERED BEFORE THE B. K SOCIETY OF HARVARD COLLEGE AT THEIR FIRST MEETING AFTER THE CHANGE IN THEIR CONSTITUTI0N ENLARGING THE TERMS OF MEMBERSHIP.
GENTLEMEN OF THE B. K. SOCIETY, --
We are met for the first time under the new and more liberal aspect which this association now wears. I congratulate you on the change in our Constitution and on the unanimity with which it has been adopted. If in yielding up something of that exclusiveness which heretofore characterized us we have seemed to compromise our ground-idea, the original import of this institution, that compromise is not a forced capitulation to popular prejudice, but a free surrender to the genius of the age, before whose progress old limitations are fast disappearing, as the charmed circle which bounds our dreams dissolves with the morning sun.
A good spirit prompts these concessions, which forestall by a wise policy the revolutions of time. It is well to greet the sun at his coming, to court the blessing, of the morning with early vows.
There comes a time when the Past must give account of itself to the Present, when existing customs and institutions must judge themselves to be judged. Whatsoever lacks vitality enough to accommodate itself to the new ideas that rule the time is judged by those ideas and thrust aside, as the new foliage judges and extrudes the last year's growth.
Progress is the characteristic of modern Christian civilization, which herein, as Guizot and others have shown us, is chiefly distinguished from the fixed ideas of the Asian mind. Our culture is Oriental in its origin; but who distinguishes the features of the parent in the fortunes of the child? We gaze upon the river as it hastens to the sea, city-skirted, traffic-swarming; but who remembers the "mountains old" in whose silent bosom that river had its rise?
Eternal movement is the characteristic and destiny of the modern mind. Or shall we rather say, the movement is old like the earth's movement in space, and only the discovery of it new? The earth's movement in space, it is now believed, is not merely the ever-repeated cycle which constitutes the solar year, but a portion of some vaster orbit which is carrying us toward unknown firmaments. Let us believe also that history is not merely periodical, but progressive. But the progress of society is never wholly a unanimous movement; its judgment is never a unanimous verdict. Our motion in time, like motion in space, is subject to a contrary power. All civilization is a conflict of opposite forces. While Faith instinctive. Fear, with eyes behind, as instinctively clings to the old. According as one or the other of these elements predominates, the mind is drawn into one or the other of two opposite directions, - Conservatism, Reform. These two tendencies at present divide the world, - Conservatism and Reform; the old and the new. All forces, opinions, men, and things are enlisted in this conflict, arrange themselves around one or the other of these opposite poles. A word as to the scholar's place and function in this warfare has seemed to me the topic most apposite to the present occasion.
In Germany and France, where letters constitute the first interest in the State next to the State itself, the learned are easily drawn to new views, and are usually reformers in their respective spheres. In England, on the contrary, and in this country, where letters are subordinate to business and to property, the conservative influence predominates, and the scholar is seldom quite abreast with his time. The superior ability displayed in the Tory Journals of Great Britain, com-
pared with those of the Liberal party, shows clearly to which side, in politics at least the literary talent of that nation inclines. The same illustration may not hold with us, yet is our own literature too deeply imbued with English influence not to exhibit essentially the same trait. Strong attachment to existing forms, and a consequent distrust of all that wants the authority of age and numbers, must be regarded as the characteristic tendency of the educated classes in either country. It is impossible to say how much of this tendency, in our own case, may be owing to near contact with an unlettered democracy which acts repulsively on the scholar, or bow much, in either case, may be the natural, growth of the English mind, - a form of intellect, in all periods, more conversant with facts than with ideas.
However this may be, let us honor whatever is praiseworthy in Conservatism, -its deference to authority, and its veneration for the Past. Let us honor authority. Not that which another imposes, but that which ourselves create. We must not look upon authority as something! incompatible with the rights and freedom of the individual mind, compelling assent to forms of belief which the mind, if left to itself , would never adopt. This view of the subject confounds the effect with the cause. It is not authority that usurps, but the
sluggish slavish mind. that concedes such power. It is not the idol that makes the idolater, but the reverse. The power of authority is purely subjective. Its character is our own. On ourselves it depends whether it shall be to, us a law of liberty or a law of restraint; a goad or a guide. With well-regulated minds it is the natural expression of a noble sentiment, the testimony of a reverent and grateful spirit to intellectual or moral power; the confidence we feel in an individual or a system, founded on personal experience of their wisdom and worth, - a conviction that what has approved itself in one particular is trustworthy in all, as the stamp of a well-known manufacturer guarantees the article so marked.
No doubt this faith may sometimes mislead, We may carry our confidence too far. We may exaggerate the worth of a name, and do injustice to ourselves in our implicit reliance on another's thought. Still, the principle is one on which the majority of mankind have always acted, and will always act. The first glance at society shows us how little men are disposed to rely on themselves, and how, with the greater portion, authority seems to be a necessity of their nature. The common mind instinctively flies to some accredited source in quest of the light which it does not find in itself. The existence of oracles, Christian and
pagan, from ancient Dodona to modern Rome, attests this fact. Those oracles have ceased or are ceasing; but the faith in oracles is no whit abated. There is no difference here between Radical and Conservative. However they may differ in the authorities to which they appeal, however the one may build on an ancient church and the other on a modern heresy, the need of authority is felt equally by both. Whether t1lis, ought so to be, we have not now to decide. Such is the fact; all our civilization is built upon it. - All civilization consists in a series of provisions to meet this want. The merit of Conservatism is that it recognizes this want, and gives it its place among the facts of the soul.
There is another view of this subject. Authority is not only a guide to the blind, but a law to the seeing. It is not only a safe-conduct to those (and they constitute the larger portion of mankind) whose dormant sense has no institutions of its own, but we have also to consider it as affording the awakened but inconsistent mind a security against itself, a centre of reference in the multitude of its own visions, in the conflict of its own visions, in the conflict of its own volitions a centre of rest. Unbounded license is an evil and equally incompatible with true liberty, in thought as in action. In the one as in the other, liberty must bound and bind itself for its own preservation
and best effect; it must legalize and determine itself by self-imposed laws. Law and liberty are not adverse, but different sides of one fact. The deeper the law, the greater the liberty; as organic life is at once more determinate and more free than unorganized matter, a plant than a stone, a bird than a plant. The intellectual life, like the physical, must bind itself in order that it may become effective and free. It must organize itself by means of fixed principles which shall protect it equally against enroachment without and anarchy within. It is in vain that I have been emancipated from foreign oppression, while I am still the slave of my own wayward moods. We want not only liberty, but direction; not movement only, but method. Our speculations have no absolute ground or evidence in themselves, but vary with the moods they reflect. To-day I am occupied with one set of opinions, to-morrow with another. Now my faith is equal to the most attenuated mysticism; anon first axioms will seem doubtful. Every thought justifies itself to the state which produced it; but there is none which answers to all states. Who will insure me that the clearest convictions of to-day shall abide the criticism of to-morrow? Or where, in this heaving and shoreless chaos, shall I find the system and repose which my spirit craves? It is precisely here that authority
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whole circle of ideas and influences within which the spiritual culture of an age or people is comprised, as Islamism, Mosaism, Christianity. And when I say that man belongs to the Church, I do not mean that the individual may not in some cases feel himself more at home without it; as in some cases he may please himself by withdrawing from the State and shutting himself out from all communion with his kind. But such cases are exceptions. The rule is that the individual finds in Church, as in State, his most congenial sphere. Within this sphere, in the Church and State, authority is not to be conceived as a hostile , compulsory force, but as necessary reference in the uncertainty of clashing views and minds, as an appeal of the Spirit from itself to itself, from its lower instances to its higher, from its morbid states and wild wanderings, its inconsistencies, doubts, and errors, to the standing monuments of its own inspiration,-old Tradition, and the written word of those prophetic souls who the church reveres as "foremost of her true servants,"
"Among the enthroned Gods on sainted seats."
This I take to have been the idea intended in the Catholic Church when that Church asserted its own
infallibility. It could not have meant to assert absolutely and unconditionally what the very fact of its deliberate councils disproved. The infallibility assumed was only a more emphatic announcement of that authority by which every society provides for the final arbitrament of litigated questions in its own sphere, and which Catholic Church could claim, with peculiar propriety, on the allowed supposition of a Divine Spirit copresent to every period and phase of its development. The design was not to subject the mind, but to build it up; not to enforce a particular scheme of faith, but to offer guidance and repose to darkling and weary souls. The Protestant eye detects the nature to individual liberty which lurks in this pretension, but not its deeper reason in the nature of a Church, nor its justification in the fact that every Protestant Church has, in substance, repeated the claim, with no greater modification than the temper of the times required.
There is another element in Conservatism, intimately associated with its deference to authority, and equally entitled to respect. I mean its veneration for the Past. Veneration for the Past must not be confounded with that slavish attachment to ancient uses, into which, it must be confessed, the conservative spirit too easily degenerates. Here, as elsewhere, a good principle is dishonored
honored by excess, and here, as elsewhere, it is common to visit the excess on the principle itself. The true veneration for the Past consists in a vivid sense of what we owe to the Past,-a devout acknowledgment of the good amassed by the ages which preceded us, and the influence which they have on our own well being and doing. This acknowledgment is particularly incumbent on the scholar, for he, above all men, is most indebted to the Past. Him all the ages have conspired to mould and to train. His education comprises the flower of all time. How many minds have gone to educate that one! What wealth of genius and of toil has been spent in rearing the harvest which he reaps! The legacies of nations compose his library. The whole of civilization is condensed in his text-books. For him Athenian art and Roman virtue. For him victors at Corinth and Olympia won their crowns. For him Herodotus observed, and Plato mused, and Caesar commented, and Cicero plead. His culture,-which who of us does not feel to be our better part, the life of our life, the whole astounding difference between the ripe scholar and the naked savage?-what is it but the concentration in one individual of unnumbered minds?
And not the scholar only, but the individual in
every walk of life, is the product of all that has transpired before this day. His ancestry comprise the whole family of man. All ages and men unite in every influence which goes to reform his character and to shape his destiny. He is born into certain relations, traditions, opinions, institutions, all of which, if we trace their growth through all preceding generations, will be found to involve the larger portion of the world's history in their formation and descent. To select one instance out of this complex mass, let us look at language, which affects so powerfully the character and life of civilized man. The individual is born to the use of a certain language, we will say the English. That language is compounded of how many races and climes! It comes to us through how many channels of Roman, Saxon, Norman history! All the nations whose dialects have emptied into this vocabulary have imparted to it some peculiar trait. Had there never could have been an English tongue. We cannot open our mouths without commemorating, in the very sounds we utter, events and names of distant renown. The household words which first strike our ear are echoes of another age and a pagan world.
But this is not all. What more particularly concerns us in this connection is the fact that lan-
guage is thought, fixed and crystallized in signs and sounds, conditioned by all the peculiarities, historical and organic, of the nation which uses it. The mind of a people imprints itself in its speech, as the light in a picture of Daguerre. The English language is the English mind. We who use the language partake of this mind. Our individual genius, be it never so individual, is informed by it, and can never wholly divest itself of its influence. It may be doubted if the most abstract and original thinker, in his attempts to construct an absolute system of philosophy, can so abstract himself in his speculations, can reason so absolutely, but that the genius of his language shall appear as a constituent element in his system. For the words he employs are not algebraic signs which every new spectator may employ at pleasure to express ever new relations. They are constant quantities; they have a fixed value imparted to them by other minds, which he who employs them must accept, and which will go far to modify the results of his speculations. Hence the difficulty of expressing the poetry or the metaphysics of one nation in the language of another. The most successful efforts in this kind are but a compromise between the native and the foreign mind.
Again, the individual is born into some particular church or form of faith, which, whether he
accepts it or not in after life, must needs exert a very important influence in the formation of his min. He is born, for example, into Christianity, - into a Protestant Christian Church. Here, too, we notice the same confluence of relations extending through all regions and times. Besides the doctrine and the life of Jesus, how many systems and traditions, creeds and facts, have gone to make or modify that Church! Jewish theology, pagan philosophy, Romish councils, Ghibbelline factions, and Protestant reforms, - these influences again are connected with others, and still others, and so on through a boundless complexity of cause and effect, reaching back to the Flood.
Such is the individual; so compounded and conditioned, he comes into life. He is the product of all the Past. However he may renounce the connection, he is always the child of his time. He can never entirely shake off that relation. All the efforts made to outstrip time, to anticipate the natural growth of man by a violent disruption of old ties and a total separation from the Past, have hitherto proved useless, or useful, if at all, in the way of caution rather than of fruit. The experiment has often been tried. Men or ardent temper and lively imagination, impatient of existing evils, - from which no period is exempt, - have renounced society, broken loose from all their moor-
ings in the actual, and sought in the boundless sea of Dissent the promised land of Reform. They found what they carried, they carried what they were, they were what we all are, - the offspring of their time..
The aėronaut who spurns the earth in his puffed balloon is still indebted to it for his impetus and his wings; and still with his utmost efforts he cannot escape the sure attraction of the parent sphere. His floating island is a part of her main. He revolves with her orbit, he is sped by her winds. We who stand below and watch his motions know that he is one of us. He may dally with the clouds awhile, but his home is not there. Earth he is, and to earth he must return.
The most air-blown reformer cannot overcome the moral gravitation which connects him with his time. He owes to existing institutions the whole philosophy of his dissent, and draws from Church and State the very ideas by which he would fight against them or rise above them. The individual may withdraw from society, he may spurn at all the uses of civilized life, dash the golden cup of tradition from his lips, and flee to the wilderness "where the wild asses quench their thirst." He may find others who will accompany him in his flight; but let him not fancy that the course of reform will follow him there that any permanent
organization can be based on dissent, that society will relinquish the hard conquests of so many years, and return again to original nature, wipe out the old civilization, and with rasa tabula begin the world anew.
Man's progress is a natural, not a voluntary growth. A divine education is evolving in eternal procession the divine soul. The pupil of the ages, he proceeds in the fore-written order of events to recover his faded image and his lost estate. The true reformers are they who accept this divine order and humbly co-operate with it, instead of seeking to originate one of their own; who sow, like Jesus, the kingdom of God in the midst of the kingdoms of the world, and trust to
Which from seedness the bare fallow brings
To teeming foison."
There is no stand-point out of society from which society can be reformed. "Give me where to stand," was the ancient postulate. "find where to stand," says modern Dissent. "Stand where you are," said Goeth, "and move the world."
In this defence of Conservatism it has been my aim to discriminate, in the general confusion of false and true which accompanies that tendency, the two principles on which it may fairly ground
a claim to the sympathy and support of educated men. I have endeavored to do full justice to a cause, whose real significance, there is reason to fear, is as little appreciated by the mass of those who espouse it as by those who oppose. but let Conservatism, on the other hand, do justice to Reform.
In approaching this part of my subject I fell bound to confess that the actual Conservatism of the rpesent day is in the great majority of cases based on no such ground as that which I have indicated. It is with most men a mere prejudice, which does not care to justify itself in its own eyes. Its advocates, so far fro recognizing the ideas expressed in the various reformatory movements which are going on around them, will not even recognize those on which their own cause depends. Ideas of all kinds are distasteful to them. Their ritual palate abhors these Gentile meats. They relish no arguments but appeals to custom and to fear. Approach them with philosophical explanations of their own views, and their sour looks confess how much they loathe the bitter drug: et ora tristia tentantium sensu torquebit amaror; all philosophy is to them suspect, and has a guilty, revolutionary look. They see a traitor beneath the stole. You are not for a moment to admit that their cause can require such support, as
if tradition were not sufficient for itself. You are expected to assume the whole burden of the Past on the simple credit of the Past. Take no counsel of modern discoveries. Once admit an argument based on the soul, and you betray the cause. It is only substituting a ruse for an onset, sap for storm. All such weapons are forged by the adversary. "We are not ignorant of his devices." The only safety is in planting yourself immovably on the letter, and availing yourself of such protection as property and numbers, popular prejudice and the fear of change, the anathemas of the Church and the terrors of the law, have thrown around you. But beware how you parley with Reason. You must not tamper with ideas. To speculate is to surrender, to reason is to capitulate, to examine is to yield.
However practicable this method of maintaining orthodoxy may once have been, it is not practicable now. The age of menace and high-toned defiance in matters of faith has set, never to rise again on this quarter of the globe. The order of the old world is reversed. Inquisition has gone over to the side of Freedom. Reason is the grand inquisitor in these latter days. Her high court of last appeal is holding a long assize on all human things. Every opinion must come to that bar. The only policy for an enlightened Conservatism, in this day
of judgment is to confront Reason with Reason, - to sow the philosopher that his philosophy is comprehended and seen through by a philosophy older than his, and that beneath those inquiries which he deems so profound, deeper than Schelling sounded or Hegel drew, below the storm and the strife of the schools, there lies a region of perpetual calm, where rest the rock-foundations of Church and State, and where gushes in secret the everlasting fountain which he who drinketh shall thirst no more.
Let the conservative do justice to Reform, and while he guards with priestly care the ancient sanctities of heart and life, let him cheerfully concede whatever of falsehood and corruption and obsolete value has gathered around them, where by Trust, in the language of Lord Bolingbroke, is made to resemble "those artificial beauties who hide their defects under dress and paint." Pars minima est ipsa puella sui. To deny the existence of errors and the need of reform in Government and Religion, is only to repeat the folly and renew the evils of past centuries; it is only to provoke a violent disruption where timely concessions might heal the breach. Consider, too, what manner of men they are who engaged in the work of Reform. Some of them, doubtless, men of depraved ambition, whose only aim is to ride into power on the
Page 148top of some excitement into which they have lashed the public mind. But there are others of a different spirit, - men of rare virtue and austere lives,
"Who by due steps aspire
To lay their just hands on the golden key
That opes the palace of eternity;"
men who resist not evil, but encounter force with meekness, and oppose the breastplate of an indomitable patience to gibes and sneers; men who have learned to subdue and deny themselves, simple livers, who know neither flesh nor wine, and taste "no pleasant bread," but nourish their great souls with earnest faith and living hope.
Think how vain, in dealing with such, are menace and persecution and all power but truth. Men who can live on roots and ideas are not easily daunted or overcome. They may be counted upon as sure to effect something, provided they keep themselves sane. It is related of Benjamin Franklin that when opposed in some literary enterprise, he invited his opponents to supper, and setting before them his usual coarse fare, bade them take notice that the man who could subsist on such diet was not to be put down. Such are the resources and qualifications which these reformers bring to their task. Grounded in principles and armed with ideas, by ideas and principles only can they be
overcome. Concede to them what is just, that you may the better resist their unjust demands, and imitate the conservative policy of physical science by guiding the heaven-born fire which you cannot quench. The wild forces of Nature yield only to Nature's laws.
Avoiding particular applications of this policy to the controverted questions of the day, let me speak of it generally, as it relates to men and to ideas.
First, as it relates to men. There is no one point in which the moral difference between the Past and the Present is so conspicuous as it is in the growing respect for Humanity now manifest wherever the spirit of modern civilization is distinctly heard. Every authentic movement of that spirit asserts, in ever more emphatic terms, the divine idea of human brotherhood, the worth of the individual, the identity of our common nature in all its guises, and the fundamental equality which exists under all the adventitious distinctions of social life. It is chiefly as the largest and most adequate expression yet given to these ideas that the form of government under which we live is entitled to our regard. It is as the champion of these ideas that the democratic element has acquired such prominence among us, and is even made attractive to some whose early associations point in a different direction.
Seldom does it happen, however, that this attraction is felt to any considerable extent by the scholar, or that the ideas in question obtain, with the educated men of our country, that practical acknowledgment which they deserve. The scholar is apt to stand aloof from the people, as if, in cultivating the "humanities," he had laid his own humanity aside; into considering that the popular interest is made his peculiar trust by those very advantages on which his exclusiveness is based.
It is not necessary, nor is it desirable, that the scholar should become a demagogue, that he should "give up to party what was meant for mankind," that he should "so completely vanquish all the mean superstitions of the heart" as to sully himself with the vile details of electioneering campaigns; least of all that they who have been called to be "fishers of men," in the high, apostolic sense of that calling, should quit their proper sphere to cast secular nets int eh muddy waters of political intrigue. Vain were our colleges if such the destination of those whom they train. It needs no learned institutions to institute men in arts like these, where the graduate of the bar-room shall render ridiculous the diplomas of Harvard or Yale.
But it is necessary to his own growth and influence that the scholar should honor Humanity, and greet it frankly in whatsoever guise; that he
should respect his ow likeness in the common mind, and in every debasement of conventional life meet his brother man without reserve, in the name of that common image and the sympathy of that one blood which binds and equals all. It is desirable that the American scholar should practically acknowledge those ideas and institutions whose contemporary and subject it is his privilege to be; that he should not falsify his nativity by affecting to despise the peculiar blessings it confers. He must not coquet, in imagination, with the dowered and titled institutions of the Old World, and feel it a mischance which has matched him with a portionless Republic. Let him rather esteem it a privilege to be so connected, and glory in the popular character of his own Government as a genuine fruit of human progress, and the nearest approximation yet made to that divine right which all Governments claim. Let him not think it shame to be with and of the people in every genuine impulse of the popular mind, not suffering the scholar to extinguish the citizen, but remembering that the citizen is before the scholar, the elder and higher category of the two. He shall find himself to have gained intellectually, as well as socially, by free and frequent intercourse with the people, whose instincts, in many things, anticipate his reflective wisdom, and
in whose unconscious movements a fact is often forefelt before it is seen by reason; as the physical changes of our globe are felt by the lower animals before they appear to man. Let the scholar of every profession think that he does injustice to that profession, and still greater injustice to his own manhood, whenever he cherishes any habit of thought or feeling which tends to seclude him from the people, when he relucts to mingle with them on equal terms as man with man, or when, in any division between the moneyed and the popular interest, he attaches himself exclusively to the former. However he may avoid them, they will not avoid him. He may shun their fellowship, but he cannot escape their control. As a citizen he is their equal, as a functionary he is their servant. On all sides he is amenable to their judgment. On all sides they exercise a jurisdiction over him which it is vain to resist and impossible to escape. The only way to secure a favorable verdict is to form one of the council. It is the worst of all policies to cherish exclusive feelings where it is impossible to lead an exclusive life. The odi profanum vulgus, always an unworthy sentiment, becomes ridiculous where the arceo is impracticable.
The same liberality which an enlightened policy demands of the scholar in relation to men, let him
exhibit also in relation to ideas and the progress of inquiry on all topics connected with the spiritual nature and destination of man. A certain reserve in relation to new views may be justly expected of him in proportion as his own views are based on personal investigation. The pains bestowed on his inquiries have made him tenacious of their results, as men love money the more, the greater the labor expended inits acquisition. It is only when this reserve degenerates into peevish interance or fierce denunciation, when it assumes to decide questions of a purely speculative character on proactical grounds, that it ceases to be philosophical or pardonable or safe. Nothing is more natural; than that men who have contributed something in their day to illustrate or extend the path of discovery in any direction should cling with avidity to those conclusions which they have established for themselves, and which represent the natural boundaries of their own mind, -"the butt and sea-mark of its utmost sail;" nothing more natural than that they, for their part, should feel a disinclination to farther inquiry. But it ill becomes them to deny the possibility of farther discovery, to maintain that they have found the bottom of the well where Truth lies hid because they have reached the limits of their own specific gravity. One sees at once that in some branches of inquiry this position is
not only untenable, but the very enunciation of it absurd. It would require something more than the authority of Herschel to make us believe that creation stops with the limits of his forty-feet reflector. Nor would the assertion of Sir Humphry Davy be sufficient to convince us that all the properties of matter have been catalogued in his report. By what statute of limitations are we forbidden to indulge the same hope of indefinite progress in every other direction, which remains to us in these?
Besides, our opposition to new views must not overlook that the course of human thought, on the controverted subjects of philosophy and religion, is not a voluntary movement. The prevalence of certain views at certain periods does not depend on the caprice of those who adopt them. Ideas are not maggots of the brain generated at pleasure, nor must we suppose that a system of philosophy gains currency in the world because certain individuals who choose to think thus, have set it in motion. These things are ordered by a higher Power. Ideas do not spring from the ground. They are not manufactured, but given. Man is not their author, but their organ. No one who traces with philosophic eye the progress of opinions through successive ages can fail to perceive a causal relation between each epoch and the opinions it represents. He will see the presence of
law in the intellectual creation as in the material. The history of the human mind, like all the processes of planetary life, has its appointed method, and is from beginning to end a series of evolutions, in which every phase is connected by necessary sequence with every other phase, and the first movement contains the last.
"Omnia certo tramite vadunt
Primusque dies dedit extemum"
It does not follow, however, that because certain opinions characterize certain epochs, the individual has not choice of opinions, but must necessarily accept those which belong to his time. The general movement does not preclude individual liberty, but includes it, as all the motions on the earth's surface are included in the earth's orbit. Nor are we justified in supposing that a system of philosophy is necessarily true because a divine order in human affairs has connected the ideas embodied in it with the period in which they appear. The inference is rather that no philosophy is absolutely true, and one entirely false. They are all but so many factors in that process by which truth is continually approximated, and never reached. They alternate one with another, now the sensual, and now the spiritual, as one or the other element in our complex nature requires.
For the intellectual man, like the physical, can advance only by putting one foot before the other.
It is from this point of view that we are to judge of the transcendental philosophy (so called), on which the mind of this century divides, and which, though very different views are included in that name, may in some sort be regarded as one system. Regarding it in this light, we shall find it to be neither so glorious nor so vile an apparition as one side and the other would make it. It is not the "pure spirit of health" which its advocates suppose, nor yet the "goblin damned" with the dread of which its adversaries have so needlessly afflicted their souls. It is not destined to supersede other systems, but it is destined to take an equal rank by their side. Setting aside its method and its critique, which constitute its real merit, it has produced nothing as yet which after ages can quote as discovery; but these may be regarded as an actual advance on ages past. As a science of the Absolute it has failed to redeem its high promise, and to place itself on a footing of equality, in point of demonstration, with the exact sciences. In the enunciation of its doctrines, its disciples are liable to the charge of not having sufficiently regarded the wholesome precept of the ancient rhetorician, tanquam scopulum vites insolens verbum. But with all its faults it will be found, in the final judgment,
to have answered, in its degree, the true purpose of metaphysical inquiry, in furnishing a new impulse to thought, and enlarging, somewhat, the horizon of life. If Utility object that its sphere lies too remote from earth, let Utility consider it as an observation of the heavens by which the wanderer here below is enabled to shape more correctly his terrestrial course.
The real or supposed hostility between the prominent conceptions of this philosophy and the Christian religion has given it an interest in the minds of some which its own merits would not have procured for it. It is on this ground that war is waged against new views by conservative minds. Were it possible, in the nature of man, that religion could ever cease from the earth, or that any particular form of it could cease, so long as it satisfies a real want of the soul, then the posture of philosophy at this time, as in all time, and to more than in all time, might seem to justify the apprehensions it has caused. We may derive great encouragement, however, from the fact that these fears and fightings are not new All philosophies have encountered the same. When Mr. Locke published his "Essay on the Human Understanding," which the more cautious among us are now disposed to regard as the only safe philosophy, it was impugned, on precisely the same
ground, by the wise and pious men of that day; and we are told that the Heads of the several Houses in the University of Oxford, at a special meeting called for that purpose, resolved, if possible, to prevent its being read in their respective colleges. All philosophy which does not assume revelation for its basis will be deemed hostile to revelation by some. Meanwhile Religion and Philosophy have each their separate path, and the gradual progress of human culture can alone mediate between the two. May we not suppose a threefold development of religion, corresponding with three successive stages of the individual mind, - sense, sentiment, and reason? A religion addressed to sense we have in the forms and ceremonies of the Catholic Church. A religion addressed to sentiment we have in the vehement emotions of the Protestant sects. May we not expect, as the complement of these two, a third epoch, - a religion addressed to Reason a religion of ideas? Assuredly Christianity contains within itself the elements of such a church
On the whole, we may leave these sacred concerns where they have been left by their Guardian and ours. We may trust to Heaven to protect its own, without laying our rash hands upon the ark.
Nor need the educated dread, on account of others, a tendency which they feel to be innoxious
as it respects themselves. There is too much of this groundless apprehension, this superfluous and officious concern in behalf of the popular faith, and too little confidence in the native instincts and clear judgment of the common mind. There is a class of men among us who seems to possess an organic alacrity in scenting out what is noxious in the opinions of their neighbors, and in raising the alarm whenever anything is uttered that does not square with the old standards, - as if, in emulation of those conservative birds in Roman history which once saved the Capitol, they supposed the welfare of the Church to depend on their timely cackling. Neither the views in question nor the apprehensions respecting them, neither the heresy on the one side nor the consternation on the other, are shared to any considerable extend by the people at large, who for the most part are too much occupied with their own practical concerns to trouble themselves with either. "Because half a dozen grasshoppers under a fern," said Burke in relation to certain contemporary speculations, "because half a dozen grasshoppers under a firm make the field ring with their importunate chink, while thousands of great cattle, reposed beneath the shad, chew the cud and are silent, do not imagine that those who make the noise are the only inhabitants of the field, that they are of course
many in number, or that after all they are other than the little, shrivelled, meagre, hopping, though loud and troublesome, insects of the hour."
Let this too have its weight, that no system or tendency or speculation is rightly discerned or fairly judged when seen in conflict with opposite views. Every philosophy which springs up in an earnest should, which is born of faith and uttered in love, will be found instructive to those who view it in its own light, and innoxious when received in its own spirit. But when, urged with harsh contradiction, it is thrown into a hostile attitude and becomes polemic, its whole character is changed. Every good trait is suppressed, every doubtful trait is more pronounced. What was radical, becomes blasphemous; what was mystical, absurd. Every man's word should be stated without reference to opposite views, and heard without contradiction, in order to produce its full effect.
"The current that with gentle murmur glides,
. . . being stopped, impatiently doth rage;
But when his fair course is not hindered,
He makes sweet music with the enamel'd stones,
Giving a gentle kiss to every sedge
He overtaketh in his pilgrimage.
And so by many winding nooks he strays
With willing sport to the wild ocean."
Whatever conclusions speculative philosophy, in the ebb and flow of its own unstable element, may
advance or overthrow, on the terra firma of practical wisdom there is one conclusion which will always stand fast, one fact which all reason and all experience conspire to enforce; that is, the inexpediency of opposing the tendency of thought, in an individual or a nation, with visible antagonism and direct contradiction. As far as the individual is concerned, such opposition is as unreasonable in point of justice as it is inexpedient in point of policy. If a man is earnest in his thinking, if he is serious in his convictions, his thoughts - aye, and the expression of them - are as much a part of him as the form or features of his physical man. You might as well quarrel iwth your neighbor's nose and expect him to suppress it for your sake, as expect him to change or disguise his opinions because they are an offence in your eyes.
But is there then no appeal from noxious sentiments? Is there no remedy against dangerous heresies? The remedy and the appeal lie in stating your own convictions, with all the ability you can command, whenever and wherever you can find voice and ear. But state them without reference to others. Publish your opinions, but not your dissent; and take no notice of opposite views, but simply and steadily ignore them. controversy on any subject is seldom productive of much profit; but to controvert abstractions, to oppose speculative
philosophy on practical grounds, is to outdo the hero of La Mancha, - it is tilting, not with windmills, but with the wind.
It was a principle with Goethe, and one among the many proofs which that great genius gave of his practical wisdom, to avoid contradiction, to deal as little as possible in negations, to state his view as if the opposite had never been stated, to work out his own problems in his own way, and let the world take its course. In the midst of conflicts, civil and civil and religious, which agitated his time, with the din of battle always in his ear, he maintained a strict neutrality, and held in silence his steady course, well knowing that these controversies would decide themselves, and that for him to take part in the fray was only to postpone their decision. He felt that to produce somewhat of his own was better than to quarrel with the work of others; that to plant for the future was better than to war with the pst. So he troe the fierce battle-field of his age with the implements of peace in his hands, and sowed philosophy and art in the upturned sod.
Peace, and not controversy, is the true and genial element of the scholar's life. The Goddess of Wisdom was sometimes represented with the ęgis and the lance; but the olive was the emblem assigned her by her favored votaries in later times.
In the conflict between the old and the new which is raging around him, let the scholar attach himself wherever instinct may draw or conscience drive, happy if he can find a point of reconciliation common to both, and minister as mediator between the two. Having found his own position, let him gladly concede to others the like freedom, and rejoice that there is wisdom enough on both sides to do justice to both. However the controverted question may divide itself to the intellect, let no technicalities stand between us and our brother's soul. Let no mean prejudice, no paltry apprehension baffle our serene intuition or mar the full and free enjoyment of whatever is quickening in our brother's word. Wherever in the many-mansioned house of philosophy or religion the understanding may lodge, let the affections be everywhere at home. The understanding is essentially protestant, - always defining, dividing, exclusive; but Love should be catholic as Nature and Life.