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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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its duties, and its nobility do rest on God. And so rests there, blessed
be his Pity ! the heart, that, just because of the infinite capacity he gave
it for love and hope, is broken here, — never to be bound up but in the
healing; air of heaven. Human beino;s do hang; on one another, not
in any blind, but in that fearful, way. And so must they be judged,
and comforted, — the breaker and the broken. The awfulness of our
natures is the trust they are to each other. The infinite ocean, — joy.
misery, affection, despair, — heaves and swings its tide in eveiy breast ;
but how would it all shrink to a drop, and even that drop dry up, but
for the breasts that heave and beat around it !



88 SOCIETY A DISCIPLINE

tion than a \asit, — and "renewing the assurance of
their tlistingmshed consideration" for persons whom
nothing but self-interest keeps them from insulting
to their faces, or slandering behind their backs.
This is a Society of etiquette, hypocrisy, coward-
ice, ceremony, and diplomacy, not the incarna-
tion of divine ideas. The four preceptors of that
training are policy, pretence, imitation, appetite.
Nor is it properly human, seeing how many of its
elements it holds rather in common with the fox,
the crocodile, the ape, the peacock, or even with
the devil and his angels.

The social company that a divine education con-
templates is a far nobler and far holier thing. It
is gathered by common sympathies, grouped by
real affinities, seeking a liberal and harmonious de-
velopment of all the best powers of the race. It
is, as we saw, the beautiful balance of individual
peculiarity with a collective unity, — carefully re-
specting the liberty of the' one while it guards the
order of the other, — engaging a salient and racy
variety of persons while it binds together the Avhole
diversified /cosmos by the centralizing gravity of
mutual good faith. In a word, it is a Christian
Society, rooted in Christian convictions, expanding
hy a Christian culture, culminating in a Christian
commonwealth. The rectitude of the lowest born



OF INDIVIDUAL CHARACTER. 89

or bred is of deeper significance than the pleasure
of the highest. Divine in its institution, it is' hu-
man in all its experience, having for its eternal
Head that wondrous soul who blends both these ele-
ments in the august mystery of his mediation. It
is born of God, and inspired by Christ, for the per-
fecting of mankind. It may exist in its essence
wherever the proffers of hospitality, the sacrament
of marriage, the emergencies of enterprise, the hopes
of learning, the instincts of neighborhood, the faith
of the church, gather two or three together. Dif-
ferent lives touch. The germ of it is the Family.
The full, unfolded crown and completeness of the
growth, the living dome, encompassing flower and
fruit and leaf and bough, is the universal Family of
the Place. You find it realized partially in schools,
in literary clubs, in leagues, in legislatures, in na-
tions. The same marvellous play of acting and re-
acting influence pervades the sewing-circle and rus-
tic husking-party as the senate or tournament, — the
children's summer pic-nic as the royal reception.
The same angels of mercy stand waiting with faces
half unveiled. The same fiendish envyings, calum-
nies, revenges, peer and scowl out of the shadows
behind : — God's discipline forever.

We have all heard of the little girls that
" wished they could have company all the time,"



90 SOCIETY A DISCIPLINE

and when asked why, said, '' Because then father
woLikl be always good-natured." There is the reve-
lation of a principle. To be sure you might say,
the company made this surly or petulant father a
hypocrite. Perhaps not; perhaps the temporary ele-
vation was real, and the self-control sincere ; per-
haps the company was only a wholesome interven-
tion between him and a contentious, impracticable
influence from the other side of the house, — a re-
lief like one of his public conversations to Socra-
tes. But what if it did, in that case, occasion
hypocrisy, — the tribute vice pays to virtue ? It
would only show that the company exacts a higher
style of behavior than privacy. The fact is. Soci-
ety is a kind of judgment. Together, men are
more in awe of their own standards of right than
alone. There is a shamefacedness about contempti-
ble foibles, and even sins. The law of duty, up
to the sense of the average recognition, and gene-
rally a little higher, gathers a cumulative force
and awfulness. The suppression of overt evil is
exemplary. The restraint is a discipline.

I spoke of courage. The social com2)any is a
school for that. Fashion is the imperial tyrant, of
which local opinion, unjust law, the privileges of
currency and popularity with your class, may be
only the too willing ministers of state, — adding



OF INDIVIDUAL CHARACTER. 91

specific chains and caprices of their own to the
ascendant cruelty of their liege. Resistance, by
principle, to that, will be a braver valor, very often,
than the facing of batteries or bayonets. I spoke
of veracity. When shall the prophet come, in cam-
el's hair, and leathern girdle, that shall uncover the
abysses of our acted falsehoods, and pour adequate
shame on our systematic impostures ? Smiles on
our faces, with bitterness underneath; cordiality in
our grasp, with no nerve between the fingers and
the heart ; love, marriage, all holy trusts, made
merchandise, and auctioneered to the loudest bid ;
invitations of courtesy bringing the company together
by one lie ; greetings of indiscriminate and extrav-
agant welcome receiving them with another ; com-
posite illusions dressing and decorating them with
another ; ceremonies of elaborate make-believe, mock-
ing reality with another; and insincere regrets at
the farewell dismissing them with another ; — who
wiU dare to affirm these do not enter appallingly
into what we call elegant life ? Or who will venture
on the yet bolder and more faithless denial that the
final cause of these exposures is to hasten the advent
of that rugged, truth-speaking. Christian time, which
shall rend apart these guilty impositions, and restore
the social world to its upright simplicity ?

IV. Reference has been made to commerce. Trade



92 SOCIETY A DISCIPLINE

is essentially a social institution. It is one of the
departments in this great unsystematized university
of social discipline, whether by its regular processes,
or its periodical dislocations, panics and convulsions.
I cite, therefore, as another illustration of my sub-
ject, that vast and world-encompassing interest, whose
laws and fluctuations not only determine the mate-
rial welfare of men, but strike down also into moral
obligation and the springs of character ; commerce,
which one of the brilliant orators of Europe called
the " locomotive of principles ;" which always has in
it a profounder significance than the dumb merchan-
dise it handles, packs, ships, and computes profits
on, — involving, as it does, the eternal principles of
ethics in its exchanges, — the occult laws of politi-
cal economy and celestial charity in its distribution,
and binding the tribes of the earth together by
cords of mutual traffic first, that it may bind
them in Christian brotherhood afterwards. God's
strength has reared its Avarehouses in all open
ports, for character. God's bounty has freighted
its thousand holds ; his permission has loosened its
cables and slid its navies from so many opposite
harbors into the expanse of so many seas ; his
steadfastness has lield its anchors fast ; his breath
has pressed its sails, and balanced its keels, and
hardened its masts, and pointed the needle of its



OF INDIVIDUAL CHARACTER. 9



Q



compass, and braced the sinews of its mariners ; his
care has made all elements further it, — the winds
and the fire to speed it, and, from the hollow of
his own hand, has poured afresh forever the waters
that float it ; God's nourishment has grown the
forests that have been bent into its knees ; God's
eye has followed the track of its every vessel, on
all oceans and straits, — in the chafings of Arctic
ice, wdiere Humanity has searched the barren prom-
ontories for signals of its lost explorers, or under
equatorial skies, where it opens the doors of both
the Indies to the enterprise of both the continents ;
— and all this, not for mouths, or bodies, or tax-
bills, or banks, but for the soul of man, and be-
cause he is a social being.

Very largely we are a commercial people, and
also an educated people. Need it be told, then,
how human equity, human forbearance, human jus-
tice, human industry, human energy, get their daily
discipline in the bargainings, the partnerships, the
commissions, the exchanges of that business ? how
God would have men merchants, that they may
recognize the obligation of mercantile fidelity as
surely as their navigation does its magnet and
currents ; keep their credit as even as its tides ;
and open their charities as wide as its seas ?

Then, when commercial disaster comes, — when men



94 SOCIETY A DISCIPLINE

see the walls of their fortunes closing in, and high-
built estates tumble and crash till all confidence
shakes, and starving multitudes mourn the ruin, and
crime rushes in to snatch its guilty harvest by vio-
lence, — when stout hearts fail for fear, and friends
look into each other's faces only to read there suspi-
cion and alarm, — when strong men go home at night
to wake and weep, and when capitalists and bankers,
used to ease, and lovers of life, as they turn their
locks in the morning, say, " Would God it were
evening," and meanness fattens on distress, and
honor dreads loss of faith more than loss of millions,
— shall I undertake to say. Who then speaks, and
who shall be still ? You have heard the voice for
yourselves. Time, and suffering, and thought, and
prayer, slowly offer the interpretation ; and this
they say plainly, — that God's Providence is the
preceptor, and character the lesson.

V. There are local forms of Society. The most
imposing of these, a rej)resentative of all the rest,
the structure that commerce builds, is a great city.
Not more true is it that since the days of Nine-
veh, Phoenicia, Tyre, Carthage, the wary eyes of
statesmen and political economists have always been
fixed on metropolitan peoples as the springs and
seats of political movement, than that the eye of
moral insight sees there the most vivid and thrill-



OF INDIVIDUAL CHARACTER. " 95

ing encounter of all the forces of humanity. Stretch-
ing out the tentacula of its traffic, till, in coarser or
finer filaments, they encircle the globe ; fed, through
port and avenue, by every climate ; ornamented by
the ingenuity of every country's genius ; bearing no
blade of grass, yet piling wealth to the sky ; an-
swering with quick, responsive sympathies to every
exciting breath that stirs anywhere the air of the
world, remember, that tumultuous mass of life, con-
gregated, multitudinous, is yet made up of individ-
ual units, — souls that the whole is strengthening
or corrupting, sanctifying or cursing, for eternity.
What the curious gazer beholds, when he places
himself by the street-side, and watches the chang-
ing faces that pass, in strange exhibition, before
him, stamped each with some new expression, —
with sorrow or a smile, with anxiety or cheerful-
ness, with thought or feeling, with listlessness or
eagerness, is but an emblem of all the city is and
represents. As there are light-hearted and laughing
companies following hard upon funeral processions ;
as disease walks arm in arm with lie^ilth, and
wretchedness in rags marches in locked steps with
luxury, — so in the deep reality of the spirit. By
contrasts and conflicts like these, in your palaces,
your decent dwellings, your dens, — in your decorat-
ed paganism and your impoverished glory, — in the



96 SOCIETY A DISCIPLINE

gorgeous temple of the Pharisee and the publican's
holier corner, God visits you every morning and
tries you every moment, besets you literally be-
hind and before, and lays his hand upon you.

" Let me move slowly through the street,
Filled with an everlasting train,
Amid the sound of steps that beat
The murmuring walks, like autumn rain.

" Youth, with pale cheek and slender frame,
And dreams of greatness in thine eye,
Goest thou to build an early name.
Or early in thy tasks to die ?

" Keen son of trade, with eager brow.
Who is now fluttering in thy snare ?
Thy golden fortunes, — tower they now.
Or melts the glittering shape in air ?

" Who of this crowd, to-night, shall tread
The dance till daylight gleams again?
Who sorrow o'er the untimely dead ?
Who writhe, themselves, in mortal pain ?

" Each, where his tasks or pleasures call,
They pass and heed each other not.
There is Who heeds, who holds them all,
In his large love and boundless thought.

" These struggling tides of life that seem
In shifting, aimless course to tend,
Are eddies of the miofhtv stream
That rolls to its predestined end."*

* Bryant.



OF INDIVIDUAL CHARACTER. 97

Yes ; that busy human hive is more than a
master-piece of superb mercantile mechanism ; more
than a faciUty of subsistence, show and gain ; more
than a vast hotel for the migrating trains that
people and till the hemispheres. It is a discipline
of human souls. For still, ^' at the entry of the
city, Wisdom cries, ' Unto you, man, I call.' "

The question, so much debated, between the
moral advantages or securities, on the whole, of
city and country, is capable of no conclusion, — be-
cause the two are not in the relations of an alter-
native, but are needful parts of a complete variety.
For instance, refinement, which is best bred in met-
ropolitan manners, because of the observation, oppor-
tunity, and examples not possibly accumulated else-
where, is an actual good. So is a certain reserved
individuality, held in a forcible and contemplative
equipoise, an actual good ; and that is best bred
off the pavements. Men's reasonings in this mat-
ter are very apt to run according to their tastes,
and so their conclusions represent only their pref-
erences. It is said, for example, that the rural
attachment and bond to the soil is a source of
the spirit of liberty : but, on the other hand, his-
tory seems to show that independence of prescrip-
tion and prerogative has often broken out, and held
sway, in commercial cities ; while we, as descend-



98 SOCIETY A DISCIPLINE

ants from a Britisli ancestry, know something of
the tenacity and arrogance of a landed aristocracy.
Considering the absence of interruption and mix-
ture, it has been naturally alleged that country
life is favorable to profound reflection, and the
thorough assimilating of whatever knowledge is ac-
quired. But then it is found that in order to
this effect the prior condition of mental activ-
ity is necessary ; and a purely agricultural commu-
nity almost always grows heavy and stolid in a
few generations unless it is quickened and stirred
by some contact with great centres. Then, it is
just as true, and indeed it is proverbial, how the
too imitative and too luxurious and too superficial
propensities of most cities require that the stock
of native vigor and moral earnestness should be
often replenished from the unworn energy of the
fields and the mountains. The inference is not
obscure. Each of these scenes has its own fliults,
limitations, and depravities. And in the complete
structure of civilization, where producing, carrying,
modifying the raw material, or manufacturing and
exchanging, are the great modes of the public
economy, social wants and supplies spring up in
both, which are naturally adapted to each other,

VI. We might take, as another instance, the
popular assembly. Who that, in periods of public



OF INDIVIDUAL CHARACTER. 99

emotion, has stood in a crowded congregation and
felt the enthusiasm kindle, mounting sometimes to
frenzy, as sympathies spring and react, glow and
rise, are reflected, reverberated, redoubled ; who
that has marked their effect not only on forensic
eloquence but on practical enterprises, from the
days of the Athenian agora to our modern plat-
forms ; who that has watched their fearful ap-
proaches to revolutionary terror and insurrection-
ary demonism, as they degenerate from deliberative
counsel to the riot and the mob, — needs be told
how often humanity in the individual is the ready
pupil of humanity in the mass ?

VII. Indeed, the whole of that power in commu-
nities that is named public opinion, is one of the
most significant exhibitions of the social sentiment
in its action on the citizen. It is the accumulated
pressure of an aggregate, bearing down on each of
the constituents. What we call fashion, in all its
forms, is only a kind of dramatizing of public
opinion, — the average preference dominating the
personal judgment, or giving a momentum to in-
difference. Mighty for beneficence when it is in
the right, it is just as mighty for mischief when
perverted. It is a sifter of the stuff men are
made of. If it crooks the supple hinges of many
knees, it finds others whose sinews cannot be bent, —



100 SOCIETY A DISCIPLINE

only their bread withhold, or their blood spilt; and
then the next age crowns them as its heroes. If
it entices some to put their principles into the
market, so it meets others not saleable at any
price, who say to its seductions, " Get thee behind
me, Satan," and are lifted up thereby at once, and
have angels come and minister to them. Even
where there is no " divinity hedging about the
person of n, king," there is the patronage of a ma-
jority for the ambitious, the bait of popularity, the
charm of favoring winds, — tests of positive man-
hood. Then, when policy and self-interest have
stolen the livery of Justice and Patriotism, — when
the sordid greed for place hath conceived and
brought forth every civil sin, — when the rule of
political proceeding is to put certain labelled candi-
dates in, right or wrong, and to keep certain
branded candidates out, wrong or right, — then is
the time for individual virtue to prove its breed-
ing, for good men to stand forth, for brave men
to breast the current ; then shall ye discern be-
tween him that serveth God and him that serveth
him not. By the very pressure of its own perils,
Society reconstructs its own order.

We gather, now, the general tendency of these
several illustrations of our main proposition, that



OF INDIVIDUAL CHARACTER. 101

Society is a Discipline of Individual Character,
and thus an agent of the Divine Disposition, —
as we have noticed them in A^arious forms of
Social Life, — the family, the relation of employer
and emj)loyed, the general intercourse of company,
commerce, a city, a public assembly, and popular
opinion. In each of these fields we have sought
examples of two great laws, viz., a reciprocal re-
lation and inter-dependence of all social and per-
sonal life, with a reflex effect of all outward
moral action on the soul that produces it.*

It will naturally and practically conclude this
survey, if you will bring before you some single
soul's history, to witness how its career is wrought
out, and its moral elements are mingled, by its
immersion in the social atmosphere, and its giving
and taking with other persons. Start with it at
its starting-point. See how it gathered from pa-
rents, from brothers and sisters, from playmates,
from school-companions, from neighbors, from all the
faces it met, from all the talk it heard, from all
the temperatures that burnt or chilled it. It is

* " Things have no society, or capacity of social relations. In
mere nature, considered as a mere scheme of cause and eft'ect, there is
nothing social, any more than there is in the members of a steam en-
gine. Love, benefit, sympathy, injury, hatred, thanks, blame, charac-
ter, worship, faith, all that constitutes the reality of Society, belong to
the fact that we are consciously powers." — Bushnell.



102 SOCIETY A DISCIPLINE

often lamented, what a diffusive pestilence has
crept out upon our English literature, and into
thousands of private lives, from the looser pages
of one unprincipled genius. But few who deplore
Byron's terribly prostituted faculty, go behind his
OAvn morbid, misanthropic sensuality, to watch the
moulding influence of the passionate, unscrupulous
mother who first woke the fury in his bosom.
The unfeeling taunts of her mortified vanity at
one physical deformity in his person, her bitter
sarcasms, her angry maledictions, dropped on his
susceptible childhood, in the retirements of their
home, like poison on a plant, and the corroded
germ shot into a baleful manhood, blighting the
world's purity far more than it beautified its po-
etry. There is no exhausting the capacity of charac-
ter to take the mould of every social type it meets.
Whatever human stuff we touch cleaves to our fin-
gers. If it is the pitch of sin, we are defiled. If
it is the alabaster-box of precious virtues, we carry
the fragrant anointing to our burial. So we " build
each other up." Every living soul you ever met,
since your mother bent over your new-born life, has
wrought its effect, — sUght, unseen, imperceptible, very
often, yet blessing or blasting, — on ^^our being and
your destiny.

The shadows of apostles, passing by, shed their



OF INDIVIDUAL CHARACTER. 10



o



silent virtue on the sick laid by the wayside.
Some nameless influence, be it inspiration, be it
temptation, has gone out from your least conscious
hours, and by word, by look, by tone, by gesture,
by repulsion or attraction, by stimulus or depression,
has altered and shaped in its little measure every
child, man, woman, you ever knew. Most terrible
trust ! " If thou knewest," exclaims Richter,''^' " that
every black thought of thine, or every glorious inde-
pendent one, separated itself from thy soul, and
took root outside of thee, and for half a century,"
— oh, infinitely longer than that ! — " pushed and
bore its poisonous or healing roots, oh how piously
wouldst thou choose and think !"

The ancients assigned to the banks of an imagin-
ary lake, lying at the entrance of the veiled Here-
after, a court of forty-two judges, to pass on the
fitness of the candidates for immortality. But our
God, who is One, and a Spirit, has set Society it-
self, in all its countless members, for our perpetual
judgment, by those everlasting principles. Power,
Justice, Goodness, which he has appointed Society
to embody, teach, and spread. And when the veil
of things outward, which now partly obscures the
workings of these divine laws, shall finally be lifted,
then will rise up again the long train of spirits,

* " Doctrine of Education."



104 SOCIETY A DISCIPLINE

tempters or helpers, with accusation, with benedic-
tion. One will say, in tones of sadness and ag-
ony which no dramatic art can prophesy, " It was
of you I learned my first oath, and because of
jow oaths afterwards grew familiar to my lips as
household words." Another, " Of you I learned to
defile my imagination with unclean shapes, till the
pollution grew thick on my heart as slime on
filthy pools." Another, " But for you, dishonesty
would have been a hateful mystery to me for
ever ; your cunning seduced my honor." Another,
" It was 3^ou that, by the exasperating word,
spoken at the beginning of strife, and thence spin-
ning its long trail of vexation down the walls of
my peace, fretted my natural petulance into ungov-
ernable wrath and irretrievable crime." Another
still, " Your worldly levity quenched my holier
purposes, just when the striving Spirit was calling
me up to consecration and to Christ." Thus, by
the power of our social nature, working on with
rigorous consistency to the end, the very victims
of our thoughtless indulgence come to wield the
scourges of our retribution. Shall it not be that
some grateful soul, speaking out of the multitude
that no man can number, having the Father's name
in his forehead, and the new white stone in his
hand, with the new name that no man knoweth



OF INDIVIDUAL CHARACTER. 105

saving he that receiveth it, shall say, " Praise be
to God ! not unto us : not, man, unto thee !
But thy faithful counsel, thy frank word, thy
charitable deed, thy unpretending prayer, reached
after me, touched me, delivered me, inspired me,
saved me ?"

There is bondage in the conspiracies of sin.
There is freedom in the fellowship of the good.
Out of the one the soul goes leprous, like Miriam,


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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 6 of 17)