Copyright
F. D. (Frederic Dan) Huntington.

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

. (page 5 of 17)
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 5 of 17)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


cruel and selfish tyrant, like the tyrants of Italy,
Spain, and the East; or he may be only the son
of his father, like Bourbons and Stuarts. Where
the governing power shall at any given time be
lodged, is a question of many answers. " In the
will of the Prince," say Hobbes, Machiavel, the
Austrian Catechism, and despotisms generally. " In
the will of the People," say Milton, Locke, Jef-
ferson. " In some representation of the wisest
part of the People," say the Federal Republicans,
But through them all, — and this is the thing of
impression and beauty and meaning, — through them
all Law is vindicated, stern, kind mother of our
peace. The eternal distinction is kept alive. So-



70 SOCIETY A LIVING INSTRUMENT

ciety repeats its claim for equity. Justice is ad-
vanced, — blessed guaranty of every social bond.
The powers that be are ordained of God. Right
is held up, and borne on, to her slow but patient
victory.

" Careless seems the Great Avenger ; History's pages but record
One death-grapple in the darkness twixt old systems and the Word ;
Truth forever on the ScafFold, — Wrong forever on the Throne, —
Yet that scaffold sways the Future, and, behind the dim Unknown,
Standeth God, within the shadow, keeping watch above his own."

2. So with Truth. - Veracity is a social virtue.
Society nurtures it, tries it, manifests it. In soli-
tude, it would miss its most generous action, even
if we can conceive of its existence. Falsehood
may sometimes bear Truth down. Cunning may
pervert it, self-interest may stifle it, hypocrisy may
betray it. Yet through all that conflict of long
ages, and by man's social nature. Truth is steadily
rising to her empire, building her eternal throne on
the ruins of Error. He reads the Past backwards
who does not see in all social clashings and con-
flicts the inevitable process that is to make man
true with man, base institutions on probity, not on
cant, superstition, or heresy, and through ten thou-
sand experiments and contests show how God him-
self is True.



OF DIVINE THOUGHT. 71

3. As to Love : to say that Love is a social
virtue is mere tautology. It has appeared that
the force which draws and cements Society, — and
makes it to be Society, — cannot be hate, can-
not be fear, cannot be sordid self-interest, nor any
of the repulsive passions : for the simjjle reason
that, in morals as in physics, repulsions never
attract. One principle constructs Society, as one
will marshals the stars. If He whose name is
Love had been seeking only a scheme to exhibit,
in free play, the first attribute of his own nature,
Human Society would be the result, — with its mu-
tual dependencies, its parental instincts, its gra-
cious sympathies, its spontaneous charities, its brave
and loyal devotedness. These, too, must contend
with their opposites. Free will must find antipathy,
and jealousy, and revenge, and spite to be possible.
The two powers. Light and Darkness, Ormuzd and
Ahriman, must fight their battle out. We only
utter the general human instinct when we pronounce
malice, with its great engine, war, — malice in all
its shades, and war in all its shapes, — to be anti-
social. But malice dies ; the affections are immor-
tal. And ever since the solitude of the unwedded
Adam was broken by the coming of his bride,
through lapse and recovery, through alienation and
redemption, the Race has been feeling its way



72 SOCIETY A LIVING INSTRUMENT

forward to the fulfilment of the promise, — " Peace
on eartli ; good will to men."

4. Finally, Freedom. Through what an august
succession of national tragedies has God led man-
kind, that he might teach them the follv and the
wrong of oppression, — the glory of that Liberty
with which Christ makes his people free ! What
experiments of sorrow ! What lessons of ruin !
What baptisms of blood ! There you read, again
and again, how tyranny is anarchy, how the im-
mortal spirit in chains thirsts insatiably for emanci-
pation, how a man under the heel of his fellow is
ever a magazine of terror, how slavery is death.
See the conditions of the problem, and then the
demonstration. See a fertile, inexhaustible soil, a
lovely climate, open markets, stout, able-bodied ne-
groes, just kidnapped, or fed and reared up to six-
teen hours' work in the twenty-four, with a present
cost of maintenance of only a pint or two of flour
and a salt herring a day. What should prevent un-
bounded accumulations of wealth and every outward
advantage to the planter, then? Nothing, perhaps,
if man, the animal, were all. But there is a God
of Liberty and a God of Sabaoth, in heaven, who
has planted his social Family for other ends, into
whose ears the cry of the oppressed hath entered,
and will enter forever; and so, instead of durable



OF DIVINE THOUGHT. 73

riches and honor, impoverishmentj vice, degradation !
On the one side a few proud, opulent, indolent
nabobs, whose children wither and corrupt by lazi-
ness and sloth; on the other, a beggared, short-
lived, terror-struck population, with mortgaged estates
of exhausted lands ! See, the tyrant and slave-
owner is himself but " a slave turned inside out ;"
even as Gibbon says it was in the Byzantine
palace, — where the emperor was the first captive of
the ceremonies he had imposed. See an East India
Company, by a career of cruel aggression on a coun-
try full of the materials of wealth, acquiring a debt
of fifty millions sterling, and what besides of retri-
butive carnage and horror, let the daily British
journals, and the wail, yet moaning in thousands
of British households, tell. See the splendor and
majesty of Rome rotted by slavery. See the taxa-
tion of American colonists reacting into a Revolu-
tion of independence, and taxing the mother country
herself for a hundred millions. See everywhere illus-
trations of the true saying of Lamartine : " Man
never yet fastened one end of a cliain round the
neck of his brother, that God's own hand did not
fasten the other end round the neck of the op-
pressor." See, from first to last, what Napoleon
himself had finally to confess, that "without justice
there is no power." See, in a word, that over all



74 SOCIETY A LIVING INSTRUMENT, ETC.



social communities and ranks, rules a Nemesis whose
name is the Lord of Love, Almighty.

" For He that loolceth high and wide,
Nor pauses in His plan,
Will take the sun out of tlie sky,
Ere freedom out of man."



LK(rriJj{E III.

SOCIKTV A DIHtJII'LfNK OF INDIVIDUAL CHARACTER.

It was ii,iU;iri()i(!d, Iti ilni Uvo fbrrnor hicAAintH, af-
ior (loliiiiiiji; llniii;ni Society, to hIiovv, fir,s(,, ili;i,l, it is
a (livirK; appoiiitiiiciii in ilscH"; jukI sccoinlly, IJi;i,i ils
Laws and its I'rincipleH an3 tlio (Jroator's llioii;/,litH
and pnrpoHOH. in onJcr not to anticijtato KulhS(3(ju(int
stops, tlio arguni<;nt was tlusro coiifinoci, foi- tli(; most
part, to Society as a, wliol(!, willioul a d(;l;j,il<;<J in-
vostigation of its jcirticulars. J spoke of thci iniproHS
i)l' (Jod's design to b(; seen on ils origin, on tlio
scene and the nianncir of its ext(;inal (Jev(;lopnient,
and in the providential ideas wliicli it i'ef)n;sents
and tends more and more to end)ody.

Not tliat everything- in social life is divine. Chris-
tian phiiosopliy admits no such h>ose, ])ervert<;(J opti-
mism as that. Jiecauso we discover that (jiod has
certiiin definite intentions in the social constitiitifjn,
we are not therelbre at liherty to infer that the
whole o])eration of Society, and all its tfnnpoi'aiy or
local effects, will be what a (jiod of justice and love
approves. The design is one thin;/; the hindrances, /



76 SOCIETY A DISCIPLINE

from man's evil, through which the design is worked
out, are another thing. The electric fluid does not
accomj^lisli its passage by a straight path, but follows
the line of least resistance. Account for it by what-
ever theory we may, depravity must be admitted as
a fact consequent upon moral trial. Doubtless the
disturbing influences, emanating from the passions of
mankind, which now are suffered to mix and confuse
the currents of history, might be borne down by Om-
nipotence ; the sea of human afiairs might be swept
into a flat monotony by the irresistible wind of an
arbitrary will. But then the Almighty's government
would be another economy from the actual one, nor
would he be God.

It is necessary especially to remember this, as
we now come to treat of Society as a discipline of
individual character. God uses our social relations
to exercise us, and ripen us, in the qualities of per-
sonal virtue and the strengths of a right life. He
sets us down on a social planet, surrounds us with
fellow-beings, implicates us in a promiscuous play of
passions, that through this intermixture, friction and
conflict, each and all might grow into ampler pro-
portions, into stouter fibre, into a more flexible ac-
tivity. Yet we must not expect to see this result
produced with a fatal uniformity. Moral freedom
remains. Heaven itself jealously guards forever the



OF INDIVIDUAL CHARACTER. 77

sacred liberty of choice. It is like any other op-
portunity of pupilage. You may learn and grow
wise if you will. If you will, you may slight
your lesson and be a fool. The social laws act
for us, but they will not compel us.

The main proposition is simple, and it is this :
In making man what man was meant to be, the
Creator first gave him a social nature, and then set
him down in social surroundings. How the former
is acted on by the latter, the soul by Society, is
what we have now to illustrate. In such a re-
view, the resort must be to familiar scenery, — sights
and sounds that are seen and heard of all men
and women. Here history will not serve us much,
because history, as it has been hitherto written, has
less to do with the secret life and real experience
of humanity than with its public exploits, its poli-
cies, dynasties and battles ; less with its spirit than
its forms ; less with men and women, the people,
than with their captains and managers. Treatises
can here help us little, because, as we have said,
social laws are not reduced to a scientific system.

The argument must proceed by passing before
us some of the principal forms in which Society
exists, to discover in them influences which are
their own moral evidence, and a spiritual signifi-
cance which is a manifest demonstration of Grod.



78 SOCIETY A DISCIPLINE

These will be, chiefly, the seven social types pro-
duced by kindred blood, by unequal strength, by
the instinct of sympathetic entertainment, by trade,
by local habitation, by congregational emotion, and
by public opinion.

Approach, then, these permanent and familiar
forms of social life, to observe how they are ever
carrying forward their educatory work, and vindi-
cating their office as providential schoolmasters.

I. First, and simplest, is the Family. There the
sensitiveness of affection, the closeness and con-
stancy of contact, the felt need of mutual trust
and boundless tolerance, the immense freight of
happiness staked on implicit confidence, render every
household a most critical and exacting: test of c:en-
nine goodness. It is a superficial notion that in the
sacred enclosure of domestic habit, all virtue is par-
ticularly natural and easy. On the contrary, the
very value of the love that ought to reign there,
the very beauty of the tenderness that ought to
soften all the asperities and adorn all the drudge-
ries, the very charm that ought to invest the
homely routine of task-work, and dignify with fresh
enthusiasm the dullness of drooping spirits and
weary nerves, — all this only doubles the bitterness
of disappointment when the ideal Paradise is lost,
or never found. There, as everywhere, in proportion



OF INDIVIDUAL CHARACTER. 79

to the sacredness of the place, and the immensity
of hope, is the cruelty of the desecration and the
torture of sensibility, when the first disappointing-
discord jars the air. We all know how hard for
pride it often is to take the frank fault-finding of
housemates, simply because conscience whispers they
know us best, and the blame must be real. Each
understands the other's weaknesses, and a censure
there is like the decree of doom. Besides, it is in
the eyes of those we love most that we long to be
most approved, and their dreadful discovery of our
infirmities is a wrench of pain. The truth is, there
is no spot on earth, no Delos of inevitable peace,
not even the blessed Eden of our home, where the
impulses of kindness can supersede the tuition of
experience, or the promptings of nature dispense
with the principles of religion.

And therefore God sets our childhood into the
Family, as into a solemn, cheerful, difficult school
for its faculties. Therefore he has appointed that the
human spirit shall first wake to consciousness, feel
its first ties, confront its first trials there, under
those tones of the mother's voice, which, it has
been beautifully said, no skill of vocal art could
ever imitate, and amid those expectant, encourag-
ing affections, which tempt out into exercise every
nascent energy. Therefore he has ordained marriage,



80 SOCIETY A DISCIPLINE

and immured it with care and love and modesty,
guarding its pure precincts as much by spiritual at-
tractions as by terrible penalties, rebuking the vulgar
frivolity that trifles Avith its sanctities and degrades
its gates by jest and gossip, by levity and license ;
yes, trifles and degrades, as if the satire that once
called wedlock " going home by daylight after court-
ship's masquerade," and the old Russian marriage
formula to the bridegroom, " Here, wolf, take th}'
lamb," were the highest philosophy of the theme.
Therefore he has adjusted, since the first pair, the
proportion of the sexes, balancing the local prepon-
derance of the one or the other over against some
special waste, and that of the males on the whole
against their greater liability to exposure and de-
struction. Therefore he has accumulated, in kindred
blood, from generation to generation, the hereditary
seeds of peculiar dispositions, traits, temptations —
running the lines of succession down through all
the meshes of general diversity, making the Past as
well as the Present to shape us. Therefore he has
surrounded the dawning life of perception and rea-
son with the marvellous patience of parental care,
yet writing on every new-born child the fearful
warning against parental folly or neglect. Therefore
he has reciprocated the parental and filial offices,
making the offspring not seldom a refiner and even



OF INDIVIDUAL CHARACTER. 81

rescuer of the father and the mother, — a "little child
leading them." Therefore he has blessed brothers
with sisters, and sisters with brothers, tempering
manliness with gentleness, inspiring the delicate soul
with courage, and, by a thousand reciprocities of
strength and weakness, of older and younger, of com-
ers in and goers out, joy and grief, decision and ami-
ability, mirth and tears, and daily looks of faces and
tones of talk, has organized a curriculum of moral
study under domestic roofs, more complicated, and
yet more simple, than the oldest university ever saw.
The Family is the primary institution of all social
order and peace. It is that ordinance which Jeho-
vah wrote in nature, and Christ reaffirmed in words,
making one woman the wife of one husband, and
their wedlock the bond of every social good.

II. A second method of the discipline of character
is afforded by the relation of the employer and the
employed. Every one of these relationships, we
shall find, however accidental or merely economical
it seems, engages a new part of our nature, and ex-
ercises a new set of dispositions. What looked like
a mere expedient of domestic convenience — as the
employment of servants, clerks, porters — the God of
our life takes up and makes a portion of his great
social plan for maturing our souls. If we watch it
in this view, we shall see that in this peculiar in-



82 SOCIETY A DISCIPLINE

tercoiirse there is exercised a kind of morality less
animated by the affections than that which acts in
the Family, less guarded by equality of position
and the mutual assertion of legal rights, or any
other intimidation, than in Society at large. Hon-
esty of dealing, for instance, when the other party
to your bargain is your equal in knowledge and
position — a shrewd, practised trader, competent to
the arts of traffic — implies a different pitch of vir-
tue from honesty with one who is weak, uninstruct-
ed, partly overawed and disabled with a sense of
social inferiority. Not that there are two kinds of
honesty : but the altered conditions test it in differ-
ent ways and degrees. Then the very fact of par-
tial dependence, obtaining not so much in actual
servitude, as in most proletary classes, elicits in
the conscientious master or emj^loyer a distinct order
of sentiments — a considerateness, a feeling of j)rotec-
tion, a blending of parental vigilance with magisterial
authority — conducive to a peculiar kind of righteous-
ness. By the benignant compensations of a Provi-
dence that nowhere leaves the worst badness without
its grain of good, it is in this quarter that we find,
in some forms of slavery, the ounce of benefit which
obstinately holds out against all the tremendous weight
and complication of wrong. Vassalage, serfdom itself,
in an age when Christianity has not yet created a



OF INDIVIDUAL CHARACTER. 83

conscience against it, is a moral opportunity to the
lord of the soil. Feudalism, while it limited the
despotism of kings by keeping power and arms in
the hands of the baron and the noble, on the other
hand offered to these a generous culture in honor
and compassion. No domineering institution, v/hat^
ever its abuses, is suffered to break asunder the
connection of these divine compensatory rules. You
have not learned of your fellow-citizen whether he
is a tyrant or a republican, liberal or mean, nay,
a Christian or a knave, till you know how he
treats the laborers in his field, the operatives in
his factory, the clerks in his store, — looking, too,
not only at wages or bodily comfort, but at their
human feeling, their families, their evenings, their
Sundays, their brain and heart. A housewife's
character is no more revealed, nor even tried, till
you follow her from the assembly and the church
to watch her temper, her tones, her manners, with
cook and seamstress and nursery-maid, than an
actor's private thrift can be inferred from the fine
speeches and glittering costumes of the stage. In
the one case her virtue was on exhibition, and was
performed ; in the other it was at home and itself.
III. Come, however, next, as the next wider
scene, to a company met for social entertainment.
^' We receive/' says Montesquieu, " three different



84 SOCIETY A DISCIPLINE

educations, — of our parents, of our masters, and of
the world." Come, then, to that brilliant throng,
— an evening party, — that less professional but not
always less scenic theatre, — that more promiscuous
enlargement of the household, — that gay yet solemn
match-ground and Olympian competition of all the
passions and principles of men and of women, so
festive and yet so tragical, — such bubbles and span-
gles of air and light dancing on the surface, such
plots and counterplots, ambitions and artifices only
a little way beneath ; — but, oh, sometimes such
mortal struggles of despair and peace, of love and
fear, of jealousy and candor, — nay, such writhiugs
of immortal demons and angels, far down in the
deeper abysses of the unsounded soul beneath !

It is a scene like this, indeed, which, just be-
cause it is so lively and expressive a symbol or rep-
resentative of what we are most apt to understand
by social life, has taken and appropriated to itself,
in many circles, as by exclusive application, that
undefined, uncertain name, Society : so that people
flippantly and narrowly say of their neighbors, ac-
cording as they are or are not seen in such assem-
blies, that they are, or not, in society.

Now, to realize the discipline such a gathering
carries on, only consider the actual emotions which
there jostle against each other ; get nutriment or



OF INDIVIDUAL CHARACTER. 85

poison, get elbowed or courted, get sunny favors or
chilly neglect or frosty scorn, get the warm hand or
the cold shoulder, get smile or sneer, get equal honor
or insulting patronage. Is it possible to move on
such a spot — call it battle-field or play-ground as you
will — to stand among its flatteries, its criticisms, its
concealments, its confessions, its conversational tac-
tics, its gymnasium of ready and nimble thoughts,
its phantasmagoria of complimentary nothings and
dreary emptiness, its supple turnings of expression,
its sentences begun in frankness but cunningly
shaped, before they are finished, by some pru-
dent recollection — is it possible to stand here, and
then go out from a tuition like this, without being
better or worse ? Many a young girl, that lays off
her ornaments after her first party, weary of the
poHshed insult that has offered her only a frivolous
flattery, as if her womanly soul could be content
with that, or else giddy with the first tones of the
silver-tongued sorcerers, has taken on her spirit that
night the influence that sways her forever, — making
her yet the strong conqueror of herself and min-
ister of light to others, or else the woman of
pleasure that is " dead while she liveth," and never
to live truly any more. See the strong there bear-
ing the infirmities of the weak ; see genuine kind-
ness seeking out the unknown, exploring the cor-



86 SOCIETY A DISCIPLINE

Tiers of the room to entertain the timid, the ugly,
or the unsocial ; see the self-forgetful devices of the
simple desire to please ; see the graceful sacrifices,
each for each, of the loving and beloved ; see true
politeness waiving every unwelcome topic, hiding
the heart's unsightly spots, and catching, by trained
perceptions, the disguised signals of mortification or
painful memory, only to ward off the annoying al-
lusion, while petty malice or weak pride pushes
the irritated sensibility, and exults in smiting the
bruised reed ; see ruinous prodigality, and over
against it as ruinous a parsimony; see the love of
admiration producing its mixed results, — refinements,
adornments, amenities, all the way from the sav-
age who tattooes his skin to the last fashionable
decoration of his most exquisite civilized cousin ;
see an honesty of speech valiant as that of mar-
tyr ages or soldiers' camps, yet courtly as that of
halls of state ; see sincerity like that of the little
child : I say, whatever else this motley company
may be, it is no mark for contempt, simply be-
cause human creatures are so wrought and proved
there for the Judgment. '•'"

* I have seen, in one of the briglit books of the day, a sort of argu-
ment coolly construftod against the reasonableness of broken hearts, or
rather of letting them ever be broken : and thus a protest against the
mutual dependencies of social affection. " Human beings," says this
easy authoi-, delightfully disposing of all the deeper tragedies of the



OF INDIVIDUAL CHARACTER 87

To discover this the more completely, distmguish
between this social intercourse as it is apt to be,
and as it ought to be, — especially with reference
to those two strong jDillars of a muscular morality,
veracity and courage. True social intercourse is not
a formal association of people, moving under artifi-
cial prescriptions, yoked by domineering v customs,
hoodwinked by traditional conventions, " presenting
their compliments" on handsome paper, when they
have really nothing to present but suspicion or
spite, — "very much regretting" they cannot be pres-
ent where they secretly rejoice with all their hearts
not to be, — " requesting the honor and pleasure" of
company which they know will f;c rather a visita-

humau heart by a statement shot at the head, — " human beings hang-
not on one another in that blind way. We have each an individual soul.
On another soul may rest all its hopes and joys, but on God only rests
its worth, its duties, and its nobility." Hence there is no need, any-
where, in all God's world, of what men mean by a "broken heart!"
O fluent and complacent philosopher, I thought ; how much deeper
lies the truth than this plummet sounded ! " On another rest all its
hopes and joys," and yet no possibility of breaking ! Yes : its worth,


1 2 3 5 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17

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 5 of 17)