F. D. (Frederic Dan) Huntington.

Human society; its providential structure, relations, and offices. Eight lectures delivered at the Brooklyn Institute, Brooklyn, N. Y online

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Online LibraryF. D. (Frederic Dan) HuntingtonHuman society; its providential structure, relations, and offices. Eight lectures delivered at the Brooklyn Institute, Brooklyn, N. Y → online text (page 13 of 17)
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torians. Given Achilles and Hector, and sooner
or later a Homer must he. Herodotus comes of
Xerxes. The genuine hero will get his story told,
his acted music sung. On the pages of Thucyd-
ides the pathos and tragedy of civil war utter
their august grief, and the speeches of warrior-
statesmen find a fit setting in the stately narra-
tive. The vast tides of the world's life, as if by
a wonderful instinct of self-preservation, cast up
their own painters and chroniclers. Every large in-
terest or passion finds a voice. A conservative
aristocracy does not lack a fastidious Pindar, and
a courtly Sir Walter Scott, nor a discontented de-
mocracy its Victor Hugo and Rienzi. The decline
of Athenian manners and the degeneration of
woman commission a comedian like Aristophanes.
When an artificial civilization in Greece or Great
Britain makes it possible for a sharp, cold, bril-
liant banterer to be the great man, Menander or
Thackeray is there. Stern and calculating Rome
will have no comedy at all ; for it has neither
laughter nor leisure ; the grim fights of gladiators
are its unsmiling sport, and its nearest approach
to mirth is the sardonic savageness of satire. But,


nevertheless, the greatness of all Roman writing is
the ever present idea of Rome, a Society of men.
The Augustan age there, and the Elizabethan in
England, were times of the growth of social em-
pires. Men's minds heaved unconsciously with the
pulsations of youthful commonwealths. Periods of
ardent patriotism are almost always intellectual har-
vests. A social energy is at work which liberal-
izes and expands. It opens the self-occupied un-
derstanding with ideas of a pohtical Brotherhood,
and common sufferings and hopes. In one country,
and that not the one feeUng the primary shock,
we see the French Revolution rousing such a sena-
torial order as Herder and Goethe, Klopstock,
Kant, Schiller and Humboldt.

We speak much of the benefits brought to the
human intellect by the invention of Printing. It
flashed in a Avave of light on the race, which
spreads forever, and brightens as it spreads. A
careful study of European history, however, during
the period immediately preceding that great epoch,
shows that even that vast engine would have been
powerless but for the mighty preparations of
change that had been slowly working in the bosom
of European society. The struggle between indi-
vidual ambition and the overgrown estates of the
feudal aristocracy had not been in vain. The


lower classes began to be lifted. The sense of
personal liberty had awaked. Mercantile wealth was
increased. Independence came with it. Trading
towns became the seats of liberal ideas, and raised
a barrier of free competition against hereditary
privilege. And so, when Printing came, it found a
new order of Society ready to receive it. Doubt-
less this new order had more to do than was ap-
parent with the invention itself. At any rate, it
was the arm of strength that sent its benefits
abroad, and gave its impulse to the continent.

Could we only look far enough down into the
underlying causes of things, and read the world's
story with these in view, we should see how hu-
man wants are thus the begetters of intellectual
power. Before a great man appears, there are
hidden causes, working in the bosom of God's so-
cial family, that require him. He never comes
till he is wanted, though the world, stoning its
prophets still, often misinterprets its hunger, and
knows not what it wants. Every splendid discov-
ery is wrung out of reluctant, inexhaustible na-
ture at the cry of a mortal desire. Not more cer-
tainly is the planet built for man, than every new
intellectual birth in it is a straight answer to his
solicitation. The religion of Judea and the Norse
manhood, — Love and Strength, or Heart and Will, —


met and married on the old Roman hearth-stone, to
generate a new line of ideas no less than of per-
sons. Copernicus came to find the physical centre,
just when the dawning truths of science began
to require that the axle-point of the heliocentric
system should he fixed. The age of Raphael
opened just when the rough lineaments of western
civilization supplicated, inarticulately, the refining
graces of Christian art. Columbus was but the
finger of one crowded continent feeling after room
and rights in another, — after an industrial America
to atone for military Europe, a missing hemisphere
to finish the globe. Lord Bacon was the answer
of tired scholasticism begging to get out of the
labryrinth into a simple path. A hurrying century
felt hindered in its restless emigration and enter-
prise, and Fulton came up to help it along. Busy
and related, yet widely divided communities, ached
for instant communication, and Franklin found, and
Morse equipped the nimble medium that should set
them talking face to face. Luther was a pioneer
pushed on by the impatient hopes of stifled mill-
ions, — a wrestler with the hierarchy, borne for-
ward by the consecrating prayers of an army of
" reformers before the Reformation."

Then, in all those emanations of thought Avhere
the emotions play, the efficiency of humane causes


is only the more palpable and characteristic. Mas-
ters of poetry, romance, arts of design, liave been
the spokesmen of social experience. In their mo-
ments of free insight, liberated from the dullness of
gross ontsides, and from the caprices of fashion,
they have gone down into the abiding deeps within,
and spoken out of them. That is to be a genius.
In that sense, all the eternal voices are de iwofwidis.
Orators are only the pleaders of passions and con-
victions, with passions and convictions just like them-
selves. Musical composers sing the sorrow and joy
of the children of men. Tragedy is but the wail
of some spiritual pain. The soul's long warfare with
conventional restraints, with foes of circumstance,
with the tyranny of custom, with the baffling of
love or aspiration, — with some slow Iliad of calami-
ties, or grim Inferno of conscience, — this is the
ever-living and ever-commanding theme of all in-
spiring speech.

Indeed, we may treat the whole world of let-
ters as a drama in itself. The unity, the postures,
the dialogue, the progress from a Chaldean exor-
dium to a divine conclusion, all are there, or will
be. What we call history is but the marginal an-
notation, — the explanatory argument. Treatises, ora-
tions, sermons, volumes, are the talk of the length-
ened colloquy. The drama is the most perfect


form of writing, precisely because it is closest to
the actual and social life of men. In ^schylus
and Shakspeare the agents of power are not the
transient interests or qualities of class, rank or
age, but the royal emotions and passions of es-
sential liumanity. In the characters, situations, suf-
ferings, it is not princes, nor generals, nor demi-
gods, that arrest our breath, but men and women
like ourselves. If kings, lords, queens, dukes, car-
dinals come before us, it is still as men and wo-
men that they come, and concern us. Regality,
titles, sceptres, are only the means of operating the
human nature which they accidentally attend. The
emperor himself is but the " usher that doth go
before" that more imperial presence, the soul. Hence
these confidantes of nature tell us more than we
knew about our own economy, — tell us "the secrets
of our own bosoms."

Turn now to the other side of this mutual
inter-action between Learning and Life, or Ideas and
Society. The proposition is that thinking and
studying men do not fulfd their final and pre-
destined office, till they reach the vital springs of
action, and create an ampler and freer style of be-
ing, — till they ennoble Society, elevate its estate,
purify its relationships, and dignify its manners.
Kings, like Alfred sitting out his eight nightly


hours, after harassing days, for classical study, to
rouse some ambition in his stupid people, when
not a priest south of the Thames could translate
the Latin prayers he repeated in public, — priests
like Archbishop Bruno of Cologne, studying new
languages for the enlightening of his flocks, — these
are patterns of the disinterested scholar, — true
kings and priests, not reigning in the etiquette of
courts or the ceremonial of a hierarchy, but in
the grand commonwealth of man, in the living
church of God. The educated, scholarly, brotherly
man is the ordained hierophant and crowned law-
giver of the race.

The course of literary progress from the first
has been towards a heartier recognition of the
worth and needs of the common people. In this,
the advance of thought has followed the Christian
gospel, — preached first to the people. This tend-
ency must have free, open way. Then, as has
been somewhere said, in the beautiful unfolding
and circuit of the perfect plan. Literature, which
began by bringing mistaken deities to earth, com-
pleting its celestial mission, returns and lifts an
instructed Society to heaven. Wisdom is always
bending to ignorance, not in patronage but in re-
spect, and beckoning it upward. As the poet
prays, " Bodies bright, and greater, serve the less


not bright," which is but a parajjhrase of the
apostolic charity ; " Ye that are strong ought to
bear the infirmities of the weak." We read the
destiny of our multiplied appliances of culture in
the best instincts of the acquiring mind. And
whether, with the elder generations, we interpret
that destiny in the light of a golden age, lying,
like an island of the blest, before us, or, with
Plato, ^- resolve the soul's purest thoughts into re-
membrances of a brighter life, already passed in a
nobler society," we find the predicted issue to be
the same, — a kingdom of heaven on the earth.

Knowledge, to become wisdom, needs to let the
heart beat in its breast, — to be what humanity
asks of it, — not a sallow monk dreaming in a
clammy cave, not a selfish sybarite gloating over
its dish of delicious reputation, not a paramour
dallying with the passions, not a respectable servant-
in-waiting keeping the door of pompous patrons,
not a mystic dervish gazing complacently on itsehf,
but the breathing, sympathizing, and whole-souled
benefactor of the people.

There is a glorious possibility, which has some-
times haunted the dreams of thinkers, at whose
grandeur all common hopes of scholars kneel with
veneration. It is the unity of all sciences, arts,
labors, letters, under one all-embracing and connect-


ing principle, or law. If that majestic idea shall
ever be realized^ what shall be the one unifying
truth ? What girdle shall be elastic enough to en-
circle all knowledge ? What principle shall be vast
enough to contain all systems, schools, discoveries,
conclusions, clasping with its starry belt all the
constellations of human thought ? I answer, it is
no other, it can be no other, than the Brotherhood
of social men, beneath the Fatherhood of God.

Here, then, is our conclusion : the world's think-
ers and students are its natural menders and mov-
ers, because they are the quickeners and guides of
its actors. New greatness awaits the human mind,
as it shall more and more practically confess this
truth and become the willing servant of the wants
and welfjxre of Society. Take Philosophy. Is it
not in the nature of things that her soul should
expand, — for she, too, has a soul, — when she turns
her discoveries into treasures of mercy, and then
scatters them by the waysides of common men,
and at the doors of the poor, dispelling supersti-
tion, cheapening comforts, easing drudgery, making
herself the " Guide of Life ?" The Arts : can they
help springing into more vigorous and graceful ac-
tivity, when they feel themselves to be like minis-
tering spirits, public j^leaders for faith and love, —
beckoning, with their elevating forms of beauty, to



the cliildreii of ignorance and crime, and calling
them up to visions of refinement, purity and truth ?
Poetry must ever gain most complete control of
men's hearts when it sings the tragic Mhererc
over bruised and baffled affections, or strikes the
note of Exultemiis and Gloria in excelsis at the
righteous emancipation of the oppressed. Even the
mastery of old languages becomes a more living
and engaging thing, when we hearken to these
tongues of dej^arted tribes, as to solemn, musical
monitors how the everlasting policy and true honor
of nations are not war but peace, not aggression
but service, not oppression but freedom. Then they
are not dead languages but alive again. Under a
scholarship broad and bountiful as this, publishing
glad tidings like the beautiful feet of Morning
upon the mountains, the real golden age, at once
classic and Christian, should be inaugurated by a
Pentecost of Thought, Labor, and Love.

Before these kindling prospects of enlightening
and redeeming Society, — which ever appeals and
entreats for this intellectual ministry, — how do all
other motives to mental toil sink down ! The
finest gold is dim. Ambition's most resplendent
crown is cheap, and the sound of Fame's silver
trumpet dies away. Educated men are invited to
unprecedented honor, the honor of creating a So-


ciety where education shall be universal. Re-
nouncing selfish emulation, forgetting the rivalries of
schools and the bigotries of sects, they enter into
a fraternity of hope and faith, " Brethren of the
Misericordia" to all the ignorance and shame that
still fringe our civilization, apostles of a new or-
der, builders of a society for the Son of God.
With such consecrations of the human mind, there
is no destiny, dreamed or prophesied, too auspi-
cious for the race. Learning would become the
preceptor of industry, the crown of enterprise, the
dignity of commerce, the ornament of the repub-
lic. Art, handmaid of refinement, — "Science, inter-
preter of nature, — Literature, the voice of expe-
rience, — and Philosophy, the guide of life, would
combine their constructive offices for rearing the open
university, home, temple of the children of men.
And in building that tabernacle. Thought and Love,
— Intellect and Faith, our prophet and our priest, —
should do all things for Society after the pattern
shown them in the mount, — the mount of the vis-
ion, and adoration, of the Wisdom, and the Power,
and the Goodness of God.



Everything indicates that the Creator has placed
his human family on the glohe for their education
into a destiny which no member of that family is
able to conceive. " Man," says Michelet, " is a pil-
grim by nature ; it is long since he set out, and
I know not when he will arrive." Of this edu-
cation, all the voices, the instruments, and the
forces, must be found in three regions ; within
man himself, in the creation around him, or in the
spiritual world above him. These three exhaust
every possible resource for him : Humanity, Nature,

The first of these, including the powers that
reside within man himself, we must divide into
two parts, — of those which pertain to man as an
individual, and those that belong to him as
social, or by virtue of the connection of one life
with another. Where all these educating agents
should have cooperated, in unbroken harmony, there
man would be, in the accommodated and human
sense of the term, perfect. For an expression of


that possibility, sufficiently guarded and yet suffi-
ciently positive, we may borrow the language of
Robert Southey : " I am fully convinced that a
gradual improvement is going on in the world, has
been going on from its commencement, and Avill
continue till the human race shall attain all the
perfection of which it is capable in this mortal
state. This belief is a corollary deduced from the
whole history of mankind."

And since that complete condition, or indeed any
tolerable approach to it, would unquestionably be a
society, we are right in seeking what those social
capabilities and operations are, w4iich point to such
a state, and tend towards it. We shall find that
all the other forces which help and advance man,
— in God, in nature, or in himself, — presuppose him
to be a social creature, and act uj)on him as
such. We shall find, further, that w^ierever his
social conditions and faculties are most generously
unfolded, there he rises steadily towards the best
accomplishment of his being. These two proposi-
tions signify w^hat I mean by the statement that
Society holds in it the laws of its own progres-
sion. In the last Lecture, we saw Socialism, in all
its forms, trying to hasten this movement by arti-
ficial arrangements, but blundering and failing.
Nevertheless, the movement proceeds.


Two facts, respecting the much abused subject
of human progress, must be frankly conceded at
once. The progress is not as yet universal, as to
the world's surface, nor uniform, as to its own rate
of speed.

It is not universal, as to__space. Probably there
is as thorough degradation, attended with all the
crimes, sottishness and stupidity of the savage
state, on our globe to-day, as at any moment
since Adam. In some dreary districts, it is plain
enough, the course is steadily downward, and a
higher civilization sinks to a lower. Glance at
some of the great features and epochs of domes-
tic existence. There are places, to-day — as among
the Rajpoots in India — where infant children, just
tasting of the life God gave to be a blessing and
a joy, are miserably slaughtered to dismiss them
from a more miserable lot. Sometimes, by the
most horrible of maternal profanities, the poor
mother spreads poison on her breast, and the babe
drinks death " where nature had planted the
streams of life." There are places, to-day — as
amono; the Pawnees — where womanhood is reckoned
a disgrace, and where she who receives, by her
nature, most of the divine spirit into hei heart,
is the abject, beaten, and incredibly burdened slave
of her pagan tyrant, man. In Australia, to-day,


when a lover selects the maiden he would many,
this is the method of his courtship. He watches
till he fmds her in some solitary place, rushes at
her unexpectedly, strikes her to the ground with a
club or wooden sword, beats her over the head
till she is senseless, drags her to his quarters,
and, with, these impressive proofs of affection, pro-
poses ; and, what is equally remarkable, is com-
monly accepted ! The course of wedded love is
said to be much in keeping with the gallantry of
these advances. The Papuans of New Guinea sell
their own children into slavery. The demonstra-
tions of hospitality and of emotion are ludi-
crously inverted. When some of the New Zea-
landers meet their relations, — after a separation, —
they face each other, join their noses, and in that
position sob and howl half an hour. If there is
a large group of connections to one new-comer, all
but the nearest relative lay hold of the hands,
shoulders and feet, leaving to the "chief mourner"
in the solemnities the delicate monopoly of the
nose, the rest keeping time, in a chorus of whim-
per, groan and yell, with him. There are places,
too, where, when the last act comes, which is sol-
emn everywhere, the naked, crouching corpse is
bound with thongs of bark, crushed into a hole in
the ground, thinly covered, and forsaken. I need


not multiply examples of the savagery that lingers
yet in the world. Does it invalidate our position,
that Society is naturally progressive ? If it could
be known that in those regions, what we have
proclaimed as the social principles, were kept, it
w^ould unquestionably invalidate it. But since it is
in those places that these j)rinciples have been
persistently and grossly broken, the degradation,
and even the deterioration, only illustrates our doc-
trine, and confirms it. Man has become unnatural.
It ought to be further remarked here that our
doctrine by no means involves the supposition that
the course of mankind has been progressive from
the beginning. On the contrary, though the point
is ably disputed, the facts seem rather to instruct
us that the race has suffered a A^ast degenerac}''
from a primeval social state of comparative purit}^
The most comprehensive students of this subject,
those that include the teachings of Scripture among
their data, agree in the opinion forcibly stated by
Chalmers and others, that civilization never arose
spontaneously from a state of barbarism, but was
olways imported, or created by contact with a peo-
ple in whom the influence of an enliglitened relig-
ion, or early revelation, had not been lost. " Sav-
age man is a degenerated animal." God did not
form man a savage. " There was an aboriginal civ-


ilization, coeval with the true knowledge of the
true God."

The other fact I allude to is that the progress
of the different branches of civilization is not uni-
form, though it is progress on the whole. Their
growth is not simultaneous ; nor do they expand
by any law of definite proportions, like the
branches of a tree, where, if one twig is length-
ened a foot, a smaller twig is sure to be length-
ened by a fixed fraction of a foot. Energy and
taste, invention and veneration, machinery and
poetry, do not advance with equal step, nor, in
any particular period, is it possible to detect any
established ratio between their several rates. For
example, in the era of the Roman empire, the will
was developed ; everything else bent to the iron
discipline of a military force. It was the age of
armies. The Greek mind labored after the perfect
in fw'm. That was an age of ideality. For a long
time after the recognition of Christianity by the
civil power, from the fourth century forward, the
active mind of Europe Avas compacting a splendid
system of church unity, binding a network of ec-
clesiastical dependencies, under a comprehensive
Christian hierarchy. For several centuries preced-
ing and including the thirteenth, the chief business
of the foremost nations seems to have been to


bring out and cultivate, often in rude shapes, a
certain order of high sentiments, such as loyalty,
honor, class fidelity, and the enthusiasm of charity.
This was the age, therefore, of the crusades,
chivalry and religious houses. The sixteenth and
seventeenth centuries were memorable for the resist-
ance of the human mind to overgrown authority,
and the emancipation of the individual from arbi-
trary despotisms in the state and the church.
This, accordingly, was the age of Protestantism,
Puritanism, and the settlement of New England.
Afterwards, in the eighteenth century, Thought was
busy pushing its new ideas out into various prac-
tical consequences, as well as into extreme specu-
lations. And so it became an age at once of po-
litical revolutions and of philosophical scepticism.
Perhaps it would be an unwarrantable presumption
to venture on a general designation of what the
special office of our own age is. To take a broad
view of its characteristics, we need to stand less
than is now quite possible under the confusing in-
fluence of those passing interests which may be
transient in the eyes of Omniscience, or even
of posterity, while they look colossal in their rela-
tion to our limited faculties. The errand of our
time appears to be, to push out into more exten-
sive applications the tendencies of the two cen-


turies immediately preceding, — especially into the
two directions of political reform, and the practical
machinery of life, under a diffused education.
Probably in a future not ver}^ distant, and possi-
bly through unprecedented conflicts, a more settled
order of society, on a new basis, with institutions
incorporating the new ideas, the secrets extorted
by all these struggles, may appear, — the ancient
stability enclosing the results of the modern agita-
tion, — the kingdom that was to come. These sev-
eral ages that I have thus referred to are not
distinctly marked off, with an exact beginning and
end, in their events and spirit and character, as
they are in tables of chronology.* One period is
shaded into another, and the work of each laps
over upon those adjacent.

In the divine plan, each epoch has its task, —

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Online LibraryF. D. (Frederic Dan) HuntingtonHuman society; its providential structure, relations, and offices. Eight lectures delivered at the Brooklyn Institute, Brooklyn, N. Y → online text (page 13 of 17)