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FOUR GREAT HUMANISTS



CORNELIUS B. BRADLEY



leprinted from the Univbesity op California Cheoniclk, Vol. IX, No. 1]



*^ OF THE

, UNIV^RSITV
\



BERKELEY

THE UNIVERSITY PRESS
1907




-*^.:|%f



UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA



FOUR GREAT HUMANISTS



CORNELIUS B. BRADLEY



[Reprinted from the Uxiversity of California Chronicle, Vol. IX. No. 1]






*^ OF THE ^






BERKELEY

THE UNIVERSITY PRESS
1907



FOUR GREAT HUMANISTS.^



Cornelius B. Bradley.



• There is one master problem of the ages ; — a problem at
which have toiled all generations of men, all races, all con-
ditions, all times, all societies; — a problem which includes
all others, summing up in its own vast synthesis everything
that elsewhere is separately worked out as religion, philos-
ophy, social order, art, science, or mastery of the material
world. It is the human problem, as one of its latest students
has called it : — how to make man truly human jjiow jo bring
hi m into the i nheritance w hich is ^lajnlyjn^^awjbo realize
for him the kingly destiny which all augury foretells ; how
to_c rown him — individually and socially, with that perfec-
tion of strength, beauty, and happiness in_himself and in
his^surroundings, without which his^Jife, however splendid
in outward circumstance, must ever seem forlorn and tragic.
TEe ages have toiled at this problem ; but for the most part
merely on some special element or factor in it, without any
adequate vision of its vast scope — without clear conscious-
ness even of what they w^ere doing. Only twice, so far as
we know, in the history of the race has the problem as a
whole come clearly into view, and received the conscious
consideration it calls for: — once in Plato's time, and once
again in ours. Of that earlier treatment I shall not venture
to speak in the presence of men who have made it their
^ A paper read before the Berkeley Club, January, 1906.



special study; nor, having touched upon the matter in an
earlier paper, shall I stop now to note the separate contri-
bution which each of the great ancient civilizations made
towards a future solution; nor yet of the part which, in
these recent times, races other than our own have taken in
its discussion. Suffice it to say that within the century just
closed the human problem has become again the object of
absorbing interest on the part of all thinking men, with a
clearer vision than ever before of its real dimensions and of
the multitude of factors involved, and with a more conscious
determination to work it out unto some approximate solu-
tion both reasonable and practical. In this attempt our
own English race has been among the very foremost, hav-
ing received the full force of the ideas and the enthusiasm
which ushered in the great Revolution, mthout the dis-
couragement, disaster, and loss attending that crisis on
the Continent. Its experience of world empire, its wealth
— with the contrasts of human condition and of oppor-
tunity thereby revealed, — the buoyant hope of its own
expansive movement, peopling the Antipodes with its col-
onies, and above all, its greatness of heart, its instinct for
large affairs, and its traditional sense of moral responsi-
bility, have all combined to force this problem upon the at-
tention of its master minds — statesmen, seers, poets, artists,
soldiers. Four of the men so engaged upon this problem —
Carlyle, Emerson, Ruskin, Arnold — were gifted with elo-
quence and expressive power so extraordinary as to place
them at once in the front rank of all the serious writers of
the time. To each of these men was revealed one profound
phase or aspect of the whole truth concerning man's salva-
tion — one sentence of the complete revelation which the
world yet waits to hear. Then his lips were touched as with
a coal from the altar ; and on his heart evermore was laid the
burden of prophecy unto an amazed and too often a gain-
saying world. Each in his long career became entangled in
other matters, in controversies and criticisms which often



have obscured the real issue for which he stood. More un-
fortunately still, the utterance of one has often seemed op-
posed or denied by that of another, to the nullification of
the real truth in both. But now that the babel of voices
about them has subsided somewhat, and from a little dis-
tance we can distinguish their words more truly, it may be
worth while, if we can, to put their separate sentences to-
gether, and spell out so much of the whole prophecy as it
has been given them to teach. At the feet of these four
prophets it has been my good fortune to sit often of late.
So far as a professed learner and disciple of them all may
without presumption attempt it, I desire to clear the master-
thought of each from whatever is incidental or irrelevant, to
apply whatever correction may prove necessary for point of
view or personal bias, and to place it then in its true relation
to that of the others — limiting myself strictly to their utter-
ance on the one great problem we have named.

Of these four Carlyle comes first : — earliest in point of
time, simplest and most direct in his language, in spirit and
manner most nearly approaching his great prototype, the
Hebrew prophet. The starting point of his thought was the
miseryand _confusion of the world of men about him, its
crying need of redem ption, and the futility of expecting
tEat disorder and unreason would ev er mend themselves, or
that any mere aggregation and summation of a world full
of foolish and helpless individuals would ever develop the
wisdom and virtue needed to establish and direct a happy
human society.

The times in England were such indeed as to give pause
to the most thoughtless. In the social world, an effete aris-
tocracy, incapable longer of its high function of leadership,
and concerned chiefly in keeping its own prestige and priv-
ilege intact; the rising power of commerce, with its new
aristocracy of wealth, and its slogan of Supply and De-
mand; and finally the Enceladus of Democracy, starved,
chained, and buried under Etna, but beginning to feel his



power, and to stir portentously in Com Law agitation, Par-
liamentary reform, and Chartist uprisings. In the spiritual
and moral world a corresponding chaos : — old faiths fiercely
held in form, while their substance was fast dissolving
away ; shallow and complacent eighteenth century optimism,
and laissez-faire, crying ''Peace! Peace!" when the very
structure of society seemed threatening to fall about their
ears; — everywhere either an unreasoning confidence in for-
mulas, or the lurking taint of insincerity, or the flat denial
of materialism, or worst of all, sheer indifferentism. This
view very likely may seem to us darker than the facts really
warranted; but it was the view strongly held, even at a
somewhat later date, by the other two Englishmen of our
little group, and we may be sure that the case was serious
indeed.

In a time, then, like that of John the Baptist, and in a
mood like his, Carlyle began to preach, ' ' Repent ye, for the
kingdom of heaven is at hand!" His work, like John's,
was a work of preparation, and necessarily in large degree
destructive. By him the axe was laid at the root of the
tree, and every tree that bore not good fruit was to be hewn
down and cast into the fire. Like John, he had no working
scheme of outward and material betterment to offer, nor
had he either faith in or patience for any such device. The
real difficulty lay within, in a wrong state of the heart : — in
Pharisaical self-complacency, in belief in the efficacy of pre-
tence, in unbelief in the eternal reality and power of truth
and justice. These devils he would exorcise; in the repen-
tant heart he would establish the beginnings of the life of
faith and obedience; — for all further guidance and salva-
tion, especially for the masses of mankind, he could only
point expectant souls to the Hero-Savior sent of God, al-
ready no doubt among us, but awaiting the hour of his re-
vealing. A noble message indeed, of commanding simplicity
and power, preached from a thousand different texts, with
unparalleled opulence and splendor of illustration, during



forty long years of prophetic ministry! A message pro-
foundly true for all times; and perhaps for no age more
needful than for that to which it was preached !

The thought behind this message was simple, too, though
startling. Spi rit is the ultim ate and_ojQly_reality. Manjs
spirit, and participant theref ore_of the dWine nature. All
real growth and bettermenf for man is spiritual betterment,
whose"motive "forc e" is the" comp ulsion_ojjove _ and^rev^
fof "a^Eeavenly Ideal. But the mass of men are too blind to
see or too weak to follow the Ideal unaided. The only hope
for society, then, is the incarnation of divine power from
time to time in certain individuals gifted with clear vision
of the Ideal, and commissioned to guide and direct the hu-
man race on its march thither. These are the Hero-Kings.
To discover and enthrone them is the supreme problem of
society. To reverence and obey them is its only duty.

The limitations of this doctrine are obvious. Carlyle's
emphasis is placed on the weakness and foolishness of hu-
man nature, which keeps the race, — and, if this were the
whole truth, must forever keep it, — in a state of tutelage.
The doctrine is therefore essentially pessimistic from the
start; and pessimistic also in its effect, as the fate of its
prophet abundantly shows. Human progress under its
working alone can never become a steady growth; it must
be rather a series of catastrophes or explosions which mo-
mentarily burst the bonds. But the forces which once have
brought freedom soon become new chains to bind, until an-
other deliverer must come to repeat the process, and so on
ad mfinitum. Moreover, in the case of the heaven-sent Hero,
force, or perhaps we should say effectiveness — is too readily
assumed to be the sure token of the inward graces of wisdom
and goodness, which alone are saving, — a result, no doubt,
of Carlyle's extraordinary delight in the contemplation of
power ; — while his instinct for dramatic illustration has led
him to choose for us a most amazing gallery of saviors of
society, from Odin and Mahomet to Frederick the Great,



and the bloody tyrant of Paraguay. But after all necessary
corrections have been made for over-emphasis, for bias of
temper, for limitation of view, what factors of the great
problem are more universally true, or more constant, than
these which Carlyle so eloquently enforced — man 's outward
need of inspired leadership, and his inward need of rever-
ence and obedience ?

It is no refutation or disparagement of Carlyle 's doc-
trine to say that it is aristocratic. The aristocratic factor,
we may be sure, can never be eliminated from the human
scheme without the destruction of human society itself.
The world may well be thankful that, at a time when its
importance was greatly obscured, or even openly denied,
there was found so valiant a champion and defender of it.
But, as Tennyson tells us —

God fulfills himself in many ways,
Lest one good custom should corrupt the world;

— and the thought was Carlyle 's before it was Tennyson's.
The high doctrine of man's need of inspired leadership,
through its slippery corollary of the divine right of kings,
led straight, as we have seen, to the apotheosis of tyranny.
That doctrine needed to be met and safeguarded by the
counter-doctrine and truth of the divine inspiration of
every man, the necessity of individual initiative, the duty
of self-reliance. The prophet of this individualistic faith
was our own Emerson, sincere admirer and life-long friend
of Carlyle. Singularly enough, the philosophic basis of the
two was identical : — ^tMt"man is sprfi^~ and partaker of ^the
divine nature ; that only by love and obedience to the heav-
enly call does he rise into a better life — can he attain salva-
tion. But the one, considering humanity as massed in so-
ciety, thought only of the call from without, the voice of
divinely commissioned leadership. The other, considering
the individual, thought only of the still small voice of in-
ward prompting. Because his Hero-King did not appear
when most he was needed, or, appearing, was thwarted and



brought to naught through the stupidity of men, Carlyle
sank ever deeper and deeper into the pit of despair ; while
Emerson, sure that the soul is ever in communication with
universal spirit and the source of all light, was radiant with
hope. True, there were many things in the times and in his
own immediate surroundings to favor this buoyancy of
Emerson's thought. The nation whose life he shared was
in the first flush of its youth, with a dawning sense of meas-
ureless opportunity and coming greatness — its magnificent
resources as yet scarcely touched; its diversity, its roomy
freedom, its untried problems all beckoning the aspiring
spirit to enter in and possess. And no doubt these same
things had much to do with the way in which this strong
voice of faith and courage was heard and received. But
his hope was as far as possible removed from that shallow
American self-complacency which so often shames us in the
eyes of the truly wise. It rested not on any special phase
of time or circumstance, but on the unswerving conviction
that God himself guides each soul of man, and He cannot
guide him wrong. Nor was Emerson concerned beyond the
individual, for, if the individuals'" are ' all God-guided, so-
ciety, he argued, will take care of itself. A much more
lofty and spiritual doctrine this than the other ; yet for that
very reason more difficult of ready application in a world
not spiritual, but carnal.

The chief difficulty with the other scheme was to find
the Hero-King, and get him enthroned, — and then to keep
him from being spoiled by the servility and the flattery of
men. But the difficulties in the way of any general appli-
cation of Emerson 's scheme are much more subtle and per-
plexing. First of all, the individual alone is its-end. It
scarcely recognizes society at all save in its reaction upon
the individual spirit. The only real life is the secret life of
thought. Society does scarcely more for that than to fur-
nish the thinker with a convenient laboratory or a stage to
which he may now and then come from his central solitude



10



and test the quality of his thought by putting it into action.
History, the record of society, has for him no directive
force; — the most that it can do for one is through its con-
crete embodiments to suggest to the soul certain features of
the soul's own divine excellence which it might otherwise
have overlooked. History is, in fact, but a mirror in which
a man sees nothing but his own image. In travel and in art
man finds nothing which he himself does not first bring to
them. Government is a thing to be left to clerks and desks.
Reforms, even of giant evils like slavery, excite in Emerson
but the most languid interest. The heat and passion inevit-
able to them are evils quite as great as those they would dis-
place. In fact, the reader is apt to find himself in a topsy-
turvy world where ''gravitation turns the other way" —
where the part is greater than the whole, where one over-
balances all.

Much of this confusion is due, no doubt, to Emerson's
fondness for pungency and paradox, to his inveterate habit
of whimsical over-statement, to his unwillingness to blur the
sharp outline of a statement by any hint of the many quali-
fications and limitations which in his own case his clear
sanity never failed to apply. But apart from this, the doc-
trine in itself is plainly esoteric, capable of being under-
stood and practiced only by souls already enlightened. To
others — to the "average sensual man" as Arnold calls him
— its very basis and the terms in which it is announced are
alike unintelligible. In his case what can be the outcome of
counsels such as, "Act only upon your impulse," "Obey
your heart, ' ' but horrors like those of the Salem witchcraft
or of the Inquisition. ' ' If the light that is in thee be dark-
ness, how great is that darkness ! ' ' Denial of all external
authority brings one perilously near to antinomianism.
Emerson 's reply to this criticism is characteristic : "If any
one imagines that this law is lax, let him keep its command-
ment one day ! ' '

But none of these criticisms can shake the real truth of



11



the law itself, or obscure the serene reflection of it in the
character and life of Emerson. Nor can they lessen the
value of that great tide of courage and aspiration which
was, perhaps, to most of those who heard him the best result
of his prophesying. I cannot think that any sincere soul
was ever misled by Emerson's statement of the truth. Only
shallow souls could ever have perverted the noble individ-
ualism of it into the silly and selfish travesty we all know
too well.

Thus clearly were preached these two cardinal doctrines
touching man's salvation; thus strongly were planted these
two pillars of his hope ; here, rightly in the main, were lo-
cated the two foci of the curve of progress. Neither doc-
trine was new. Both were old — as old as the earliest spir-
itual thought on the subject. Yet each gathered from the
circumstances of its utterance, from the needs of the age,
and from the genius and character of the man, an emphasis
and a quickening power well nigh unexampled in recent
times. Rightly, in the main, I think we shall all agree, were
these cardinal points located; but each with too exclusive
attention, as though it alone were the center of the sphere, —
with too little conscious reference to the other as its neces-
sary correlate and complement. Both men planted them-
selves firmly on righteousness as the only salvation, and on
divine guidance sought through reverence and faith, as the
only means thereto. But divine guidance, in the thought
of the one, was for the mass of men, and therefore mediate
— incarnate in human leadership ; in the thought of the
other, it was for the individual, and therefore immediate —
a distinct revelation from God. Its chief attribute for the
one was action and force ; for the other, thought and char-
acter. Each view is partial, and appeals to a distinct group
of men; neither alone suffices for man's salvation. As Jou-
bert finely says:^ ''Force and Right are rulei-s of this
world; but Force till Right is ready." To bring these two

^ Quoted by Arnold, Essays 1st Series, p. 12.



12



into harmony, to find the radii which link these foci to-
gether, so that from them both the true orbit of human pro-
gress may be more nearly found, — was a task reserved for
other men ; and one of these men was Ruskin.

Of the same ultimate conviction as Carlyle, though of
kindlier temper, and confronted by the same social condi-
tions, it was no doubt inevitable that he should become a
follower and professed disciple of Carlyle. But it was
equally inevitable that a nature so differently endowed and
trained, so much wider in range both of experience and
sympathy, should greatly modify Carlyle 's stern and barren
gospel of work. Seeing clearly the need of inspired leader-
ship, he saw also what Carlyle failed to see, — the equal need
of self-help and individual initiative. He had an abiding
faith in our common human nature, which saved him alike
from Carlyle 's despair and from his consequent inaction.
The leadership which, in his view, was to save the world,
was not concentrated into fierce bursts of meteoric splendor,
soon to be quenched in darkness as profound as ever; but
distributed — lodged in its degree in every soul that truly
loves truth and righteousness. The world he looked out
upon seemed bad indeed ; but he had no mind either to fold
his hands in despair, or make the confusion worse by use-
less wailing and denunciation. Rather would he rouse every
true heart within sound of his voice to range himself man-
fully on the side of order and right, and avail himself of
whatever leadership might be at hand, — until through sol-
dierly obedience he should himself become a leader in his
place in the mighty army of God.

The correction which Ruskin here applies to Carlyle 's
scheme is important in many ways. First of all, it makes
possible a continuous betterment of society, in place of
fierce paroxysmal reform, with long succeeding periods of
discouragement and relapse. Provision, moreover, is made
for a continuous organization of society, evermore renewed
from within, instead of its momentary organization out of



13

chaos by force from without — an effort which usually ex-
hausts Carlyle's hero before he can accomplish much else.
And, since all members of society are participant, the pro-
cess is truly educative for all, and not merely coercive. In
fine, Ruskin's scheme, though as thoroughly aristocratic as
Carlyle's, faces in the opposite direction; for while Car-
lyle's interest seems wholly dramatic and spectacular, cen-
tered upon the person and the performance of the hero;
Euskin 's is wholly practical, centered on the outcome to the
masses.

But this correction is not all. Ruskin saw clearly— as
Carlyle did not— that work alone cannot satisfy the need of
the human spirit; nor work with obedience and reverence
added. Even so, it is no better than slavery, unless there is
for the workman joy in his work and in the fruits of it.
Were we not all, alas, too familiar with the fact, with what
horror and indignation should we regard an organization of
society which inevitably dooms any of its members to work
necessarily deadly?— to labor that kills the body, like that
in the fierce heat at the furnace-mouth, or amidst noxious
fumes; or labor that kills the soul through its unending
monotony and infinitesimal range, as in many departments
of manufacture with modern machinery ; or labor that kills
both body and soul, — so poorly paid that the utmost effort
of the worker does not earn him enough sustenance to enable
him to continue the work by which alone he lives! This
dire evil Carlyle had seen, — had painted it in lines of fire
on a background as black as the walls of Tartarus; — and
there he had stopped. Ruskin set himself to do what he
could to abate it ; devoting thereto the full strength of his
manhood, and a fortune by no means inconsiderable for
those days. His efforts were manifold, but mainly along
three lines: (1) To arouse the conscience of an indifferent
public to a sense of its responsibility for its brother's blood,
by a succession of appeals unparalleled for passionate earn-
estness and eloquence — ^the utterances by which Ruskin is



14



still most generally known. (2) To expose the fallacies — as
he deemed them — of current economical theory, and the
viciousness of commercial morals behind which the srreed
that wrought such cruel wrong was seeking to shelter itself.
This matter is beset with too many difficulties to permit of
its being handled here. I may only remark in passing that,
upon the whole, Ruskin 's way of thinking seems to be gain-
ing ground among thoughtful men; namely, that there are
values in the world which are real, and not merely the out-
come of fortuitous ' ' supply and demand ' ' ; that a nation 's
real wealth is in the life and character of its people, rather
than in some accumulation of mere material things pur-
chased perhaps at the sacrifice of that other ; that an econ-
omy claiming to be called political should above all recognize
and seek to conserve the chief values of the nation, or else,
if unable or unwilling to concern itself Avith these, it should
be content to wear the truer designation of commercial
economy. All this, however, was but incidental to his main
effort: (3) to improve both the character and the condition
of the workingman, by helping him to help himself. This
he would do by keeping constantly before the workingman
higher ideals both of life and of work ; by encouraging him
to make himself master of his craft ; and by creating among
the wealthy a discriminating taste in favor of genuine hand-
workmanship as against the machine-made article. Within
the brief compass of this paper it is impossible to give any
adequate idea of the amount of time and energy Euskin put
into this labor of love. Schools, museums, workingmen's
colleges and classes, experimental farms, workshops, homes,
communities; the enlistment and training of an army of


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Online LibraryCornelius Beach BradleyFour great humanists → online text (page 1 of 2)