Nathaniel Hillyer. Egleston.

The North American review (Volume 139) online

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things. He lights and warms his saloon, furnishes music and a
hearty welcome. The people who go in to drink are legally sane


and go in voluntarily. If you doubt their sanity, and should
challenge it before a court, and it were asked : ' Is this man
competent to vote J Is he capable of making a contract, or a
will ? 7 and experts should answer yes, your charge of insanity
would be dismissed with a reprimand. The men who go
into this saloon are legally sane until they are shown to be
non compos mentis ; they have a right to enter that street, a
legal right to enter the saloon, and as perfect a legal right
to drink whisky as you and I have to drink coffee. If we
propose to use the word * crime ' in the dictionary-authorized
sense, we must say that the rumseller has committed no crime.
He is accessory to a wretched vice, which does more harm in the
world than all crimes together, but which, like other vices or
sins, must be treated by social, moral, and religious agencies.
We rejoice over this because we know that these forces are
infinitely stronger than the constable.' 7

Prohibitory liquor laws are indispensable to the temperance
cause. But they must attack the crimes of the liquor traffic,
not its vices. The failure to make this distinction threatens the
ruin of the grandest revolution in human history. Prohibition
ists rarely mention the crimes of the hell-born traffic, but
grapple with its vices. In this conflict they will fail. By a
simple change of tactics, civil law would do more in removing
intemperance in twelve months than it has done in a quarter of
a century.

Sale to a child, to a man who is drunk, to a sot, or to a per
son known to be dangerous when under the influence of drink,
is a crime. But prohibitionists miss their great opportunity in
not prosecuting adulterations. An adulteration is a fraud, and
a fraud is always a crime. Officers can go anywhere in search
of a fraud, and all drinkers would cheer on the attack. A
vigorous prosecution of adulterations would paralyze the whole

Prohibitionists say that we miss the point ; that they have
never proposed to treat drinking as a crime; that the sale
is the crime. The cook who contributes to gluttony by his
appetizing compounds is accessory to a vice, but is not guilty of
a crime. The grog-seller is accessory to another vice. To say
that he is guilty of a crime because he is accessory to a vice, is
to ignore the dictionary and talk nonsense. To admit that a
man has a legal right to drink, and then stand between him and


the opportunity, is an insult. To say that you have a legal right
to use patent medicines, and then send an officer to stand be
tween you and the drug store, is a like absurdity. A prohibi
tionist would say to a man who wishes to drink, "My dear fellow,
you have a perfect legal right to drink, but I should smile to see
you buy any liquor." The right to drink includes the right
to buy j not the right to buy through the lying prescription of
a tricky doctor, but the right to buy of any one who conducts
the sale without crime, and without making his business a

We are the first people with liberty to make laws at pleasure,
and we are nearly crazy over it. While the legislature should
meet but once in three or five years, and then for a short session,
they congregate every year, stay many months, and, when finally
they adjourn, the newspapers of both parties rejoice that at
length they have stopped their mischievous intermeddling and
gone home. Our thoughtful editors often express fears lest
Congress should disturb the business of the country. " If they
would only quit, and let us go on in peace. ??

Extravagant notions obtain of the importance of our law
makers. People think that the Governor is the Commander-in-
chief of the State, while he is only the Chief of Police. To
criminals he is a great man, but to respectable citizens he is a
policeman without bright buttons, whose principal duty it is to
watch the streets while people sleep. The citizen of the highest
class steps a long way down when he enters the police force.
Generally governors and legislators are men of the rougher
sort. As their only real duty is to punish criminals and main
tain a few general laws for the control of corporations, the
selection is perhaps not unwise. Men of the highest class can
serve better by wielding those social and moral forces which
mold society and govern the world. One periodical, edited
with brain and conscience, may contribute more to the welfare
of the State than the entire legislature. Generally, when we
read the two or three columns of newspaper report of the doings
at the State House, we are ashamed. Their blundering comes
in great part of their attempting tasks which lie beyond their

" Then/' exclaims the prohibitionist, " you would have us lie
helpless on our backs while millions of our fellow-men go down
to perdition." A man who can indulge this thought in full view
VOL. cxxxix. NO. 333. 14


of that magnificent revolution known as Washingtonianism,
and that amazing outburst, the Woman's Crusade a man who,
in full view of these proofs of the overwhelming power of moral
forces, will say that if he cannot have the constable to help him
cure his neighbor's vices, he must lie helpless on his back, is a
queer creature.

I am an old man, but I expect to live long enough to see the
friends of temperance turn their backs upon the constable, join
hands and hearts in a grand movement combining the tactics
of Washingtonianism and the Woman's Crusade, and within
twelve months fill the most wonderful page in the history of
Christian civilization.






FENELON spoke from his generous heart when he said, " I
love my family more than myself, my country more than my
family, and the whole world more than my country." Unfortu
nately, the converse of this is true of men in general, who love
themselves first, their families next, then their country, and the
whole world hardly at all. Hence the inefficacy of arguments
intended to show that abuses in which an age takes delight will
bring harm to posterity. Those who prefer the lower to the
higher self will make no sacrifices for the good of their descend
ants, as one who is indifferent to the living will surely be un
mindful of the dead and the unborn. We care nothing for
ancestors who are a few degrees removed from us, unless their
lives furnish food to our vanity, and it is not probable that any
man is made unhappy by pondering on the destiny that may
await his great grandchildren. Declaimers against the evils of
the age, who predict the not distant downfall of the state or of
civilization, alarm no one, because few have faith in such forebod
ings, and fewer still care to trouble themselves about the con
dition of mankind a hundred years hence. The masses of
Europeans and Americans are not at all concerned for the wel-

VOL. cxxxix. NO. 334. 15


fare of the populations of Africa and eastern Asia ; they are
too far away. And time separates even more than space.

Here in America, to within a quite recent date, we have been
so wholly under the influence of unreasoning optimism and
youthful self-complacency, that prophets of evil have appeared
to us to be simply men of unsound mind. As a people we have
been, and probably still are, believers in the fundamental error
that denies the original taint in man's nature ; and hence we
are persuaded that, in a society like ours, where the restraints,
oppressions, and injustices of past ages have ceased to exist,
the tendency to higher modes of thought and conduct, to purer
and worthier life, is as irresistible as the laws of nature. The
enthusiasm with which men hailed the advent of democratic
rule, and the promise of boundless good to the race with which
the new order of things was ushered in, together with a knowl
edge of the terrible and indescribable evils that unjust laws and
tyrannical governments have brought upon mankind, were suf
ficient to blind them to the common facts of personal experience,
and to hide from philosophers a truth known to every mother
and every nurse, that man is born not only weak and ignorant,
but with such a tendency to what is vicious that each generation
of children, if left to the impulse of their will, would inevitably
relapse into barbarism. The bent of human nature is toward
what is beneath, and the natural course of society is downward.
If we consider the history of our race, we find emergence from
barbarism to be the fortunate lot of exceptional people, who
by some divine impulse are borne upward, and, having reached
a certain height of civilization, hasten to descend, not, in
deed, along the rugged paths of heroic daring and self-denial
by which they mounted the summit, but in the open and easy
way of sensual delights. Among the most privileged nations,
only the smallest number attain to excellence, and their high
endowments, whether moral or intellectual, depend upon un
ceasing effort. The great body of their fellow-countrymen
are held to be civilized on account of their association with
these better specimens of the race, just as a vulgar man
is called noble because he descends from ancestors who are
believed to have been really so. Few men love the best, or
seek the highest, or strive to shape their lives upon the model
of exalted ideals ; and the truly excellent, whether in conduct,
literature, or art, is never popular. The crowd neither follow


in the footsteps of the noblest characters, nor read the best
books, nor love the master- works of genius. It may, indeed,
be said to be a law of human nature that attraction from below
is stronger than attraction from above. The multitude live in
the senses, not in the soul ; and the life of the senses is contact
with material objects. Hence the fatal tendency to superficial
views of life and to low notions of conduct. How long and
patiently must not a man labor to bring his natural endow
ments to some kind of perfection ? And the moment he ceases
to toil marks the beginning of degeneracy. But this tireless
struggle is hard to weak nature, and the multitudes yield to the
current, and are carried farther and farther away from the
heights their young eyes looked up to with hope, all aglow with
the light of ideal worlds. The same law prevails in families.
But very few rise to eminence, and they, having produced two or
three men of mark, break up and are lost in obscurity.

It is difficult to understand why we should imagine that
there is in human nature a principle of indefinite progress.
There is, indeed, in the world to-day more knowledge than there
has ever been, more wealth, more comfort, more liberty j but,
apart from the fact that all this is in great measure attributable
to the influence of Christianity, which was accepted as a super
natural faith, supplying supernatural motives and helps, the
essential quality of human life lies elsewhere than in knowledge,
wealth, comfort, and liberty. Men and nations fail, not for lack
of these, but for lack of moral strength. Conduct, to use a cur
rent phrase, is three-fourths or four-fifths of human life ; and
man is to such an extent a moral being that failure in conduct
is essential, hopeless failure. The sense of life, of its goodness,
its joyousness, its inestimable worth, springs from right-doing,
not from fine thinking, or the enjoyment of political freedom, or
the possession of wealth. Pure hearts are glad, and they who
tread the paths of duty find God's world sweet. This is not a
theory, but a truth that all men may verify by actual experi
ment, and to it the unvarying testimony of the past bears
witness. That moral life is joy, peace, gladness, contentment,
fullness of life, is the teaching of all the greatest thinkers of the
world ; and it is also the actual experience of every human being
who walks obedient to the voice of God's stern daughter, Duty.
This is not to say that right-doing necessarily makes people
happy, but that it gives them a deeper sense of the value of life


and of its sacredness, a better insight into the goodness of all
things, a knowledge that evil is accidental, and in no way able
to deprive man of the blessedness that comes of being in con
scious harmony with the eternal laws of God's universe. To be
morally right is to be absolutely right, because the infinite
truth of what is, is more nearly revealed to the conscience than
to the intellect ; and the more closely we conform to the law
within, the more God-like does the whole world external to our
selves grow to be. In this way moral excellence, awakening the
deep and boundless harmonies that sleep within the soul, brings
us near to the heart of love and creates faith in immortal life.
When character is the result of conformity with eternal laws y
we feel that this union is everlastingly true, good, and fair ; and
hence that our real self belongs to an order of things that is
imperishable. Therefore, the good are strong, and so, happy,
since weakness is misery.

Just as right-doing leads to completeness of life and to belief
in life everlasting, so wrong-doing begets a disesteem of life and
unbelief in man's God-like destiny. " Let us eat and drink, for
to-morrow we die," are the words of those who fail in conduct.
The more we live in the senses, the less becomes our faith in the
value and duration of life. Hence the recklessness of those who
have thrown aside moral restraint, an<J. the fatal facility with
which they take their own and others' lives. Thought, to be
true and healthful, must complete itself in act. It is not, there
fore, its own end, but aims at something beyond. In the same
way faith, hope, and love tend to action, to morality, to right
eousness ; and thus from all sides the truth is borne in upon us
that the test of human worth is to be found in character, and
not in a cultivated mind, or a brilliant imagination, or in beauty
of body, and much less, of course, in things that are purely
material, as money and machinery. Progress, then, is not
possible where there is moral decadence, since conduct is three-
fourths of life, and character the real test of man's worth. The
literary excellence and refined civilization of the age of Au
gustus and Louis XIY. were not only wholly powerless to arrest
the decay of Roman and French society, but served rather to
hasten its dissolution ; and history testifies to the truth that the
possession of wealth destroys the virtues by which it is created.

If we turn to our own country, and to what, unfortunately,
we must still call an experiment, to determine whether the best


possible kind of government may become an enduring fact, we
cannot fail to perceive that, to be able to form an enlightened
opinion as to the success or failure of this noblest effort at self-
government ever made by mankind, the truth that I have here
sought to develop must be borne in mind. Human worth is
moral worth 5 man's proper measure is character; conduct is
three-fourths of life ; right-doing brings the deepest and most
lasting content and gladness to the heart of man, and thus
creates a sense of completeness and harmony that nothing else
can give. Righteousness is strength. As the physical forces of
the boundless universe work together in every drop of water to
give and maintain its form and nature, so the infinite power
that makes goodness the best, cooperates with every man who
obeys conscience, to uphold and confirm his heart. Goodness of
life tends to length of days, to health, to success. Man lives by
faith, hope, and love ; and fidelity to conscience keeps him close
to the clear-flowing fountain-head of faith, hope, and love. To
think finely is well j to dream nobly is also good ; and to look
with a glad heart upon the beauties of the universe gives
delight; but not in doing any of these things, but in doing
right, lies the worth and goodness of life. And this great prin
ciple affects families and nations as it affects individuals. Con
duct leads a whole people along the rugged and difficult ascent
of progress ; and, without it, neither knowledge, nor wealth, nor
numbers, nor machinery, nor fertile soil, nor healthful climate,
nor all these together, with whatever else there may be that is
good and helpful, can save them from decadence and ruin.
Whether alone or one of a multitude, man fails not for lack of
anything else than virtue.

That a democratic form of government ought to be the best,
the proverb, " If you wish a thing done, do it yourself," would
seem sufficiently to prove. Again : Since the end of government
is to promote the welfare of all the governed, and since each man
is more than any one else interested in his own behalf, and since
interest in a subject or a cause awakens attention and begets
intelligence in matters therewith connected, it would seem to
follow that to give to all men a due degree of influence in the
government is the surest way to promote the welfare of all.
And this conclusion gains weight when we reflect that whoever
hopes more from his own industry and merit than from fortune
and favor is a natural republican. On the other hand, there


seems to be no doubt but the government of the best men is really
the best government ; and, since this is so, that a democratic
government, where the people are corrupt, is necessarily a bad
government, because the vicious will not only not elect the
best, who will not stoop to their level, but, by virtue of the law
of affinity, will choose the baser sort of men. It was this kind
of democracy that repelled Landor " Because," said he, "I have
always found it more jealous of merit, more suspicious of wis
dom, more proud of riding on great minds, more pleased at
raising up little ones above them, more fond of loud talking,
more impatient of calm reasoning, more unsteady, more ungrate
ful, and more ferocious ; above all, because it leads to despotism
through fraudulence, intemperance, and corruption."

As the liberty of criminals means license, so the freedom of
the immoral means corruption. Declaimers are fond of affirm
ing that man naturally loves liberty, when the truth is, he only
naturally hates restraint. Liberty is obedience to law ; and is
it not absurd to assert that men are naturally obedient to law,
when religion, education, civil authority, criminal codes, and
other means have to be continually employed to enforce respect
for authority? Do savages, barbarians, and children love the
moral restraint without which it is not possible even to think of
liberty ? Have not men in all ages called liberty the opportunity
to seek their own interests and gratify their passions by inflicting
wrongs upon their fellow-beings ? All virtue is rare, but love
of liberty is a rare virtue, the flower and fruit of a life-long
devotion to rectitude, to unselfish purposes and aims as large
as the love of Christ. Let us not imagine, then, that a free
government such as ours rests upon the natural instincts of the
human heart. We love the highest when we see it, but the low
cannot see the highest, and only the best know the best.

Our great good fortune lies in our infinite wealth of oppor
tunity. Whoever feels within himself force of mind or heart
or body, finds work to do that brings reward 5 and as he moves
forward, avenues open out at every step that lead or promise to
lead to much that men most eagerly desire. Through these
thousand channels the flood of energy finds outlets, and catas
trophes are avoided. But opportunities diminish with the
growth of population and the development of the country ; and
with the whole world rushing in upon us, we shall soon have to
find a way to control destructive agencies that our physical
resources and sparse population now render comparatively


harmless. We must now prepare to meet this emergency. By
the end of the century we shall have nearly a hundred million
people; our wealth will be greater than that of any other
nation ; our machines will be the most perfect ; and the com
forts of life will here be within the reach of larger multitudes
of men than have ever enjoyed them. All this will come like
the leaves in spring-time, and like the fruit in summer j but
numbers do not constitute excellence, and machinery does not
fashion souls, and comforts do not nourish heroes. If the out
come of our civilization is simply to be the greatest possible
number of well-clad and well-fed human beings, there is little
need of giving serious thought to such a lubberland of medi
ocrities, and we may as well agree with Eenan, who thinks us
farther removed from true social ideals than any other people,
or with Carlyle, who maintains that the stupendous feat we have
hitherto accomplished is to bring into existence in an incredibly
short time more millions of bores than ever made earth dismal

To develop the highest man, and, if it may be, multitudes of
the highest men, is in every way more desirable than to dig gold
or build railways ; and if we are to stand in the van of all the
world, we must have other proofs to show than our money, our
corn, our numbers, and our machines. " The end of all political
struggle," says Emerson, " is to establish morality as the basis
of all legislation." It is manifest that our politics have be
come essentially immoral. Neither party dares to touch any
question that is higher or holier than that of tariff or no tariff,
looking upon a wretched financial problem as the only vital
interest for a people who lack not money, but virtue. The
eternal principles of justice and morality are ignored, and our
electoral contests have degenerated into mere struggles for
office; and to suggest that conscience ought again to assert
itself in American politics is to make one's self ridiculous. And
all the while the evidences of moral decadence stare us in the
face. There is the general decay of faith in God and in the
worth of life that is the unfailing mark of weakening character
and sinking morality. Nothing is longer certain for us but
what we see or touch, so that the whole ideal world, which is our
only true world, is become a dream ; and the young start out in
life with no higher aims than to get money or office. Nothing
is left among us that is venerable, or great, or divine. We look
upon God's universe with the spirit of irreverence in which the


author of "Innocents Abroad w beheld the shrines of religion
and art in Europe and Asia. Our smartness renders us inca
pable of admiration, of awe, of reverence. We know what the
stars are made of, and think them not more wonderful than an
electric light.

The press of our great cities is the chronicle of our life.
What does it record? Murders, suicides, robberies, thefts,
adulteries, fornications, divorces, drunkenness, gambling, incen
diarism, fraudulent bankruptcies, official peculations, with now
and then a collision of trains and destruction of life and prop
erty by mobs. This fills the news columns. In the editorials
we meet with reckless assertion, crude generalization, special
pleading, ignorant or dishonest statement of half-truths, insin
cere praise and lying abuse of public men, frivolous treatment
of the highest and holiest subjects all thrown into that form
of false reasoning and loose style which is natural to minds
that have not time to learn anything thoroughly. And this half-
mental and half -bestial brothel-and-grog mixture, brought from
the great cities by special trains to every household, falls like a
mildew upon the mind and conscience of the people, taking from
them all relish for literature, all belief in virtue, all reverence
for God and nature, until one may doubt whether we have not
lost the power of intellectual and moral growth.

We have no one institution great enough to inspire the love
and enthusiasm that are the soul of national unity. Our public
life regards material interests alone ; our theory of education is
narrow and superficial, aiming chiefly to develop smartness, the
least desirable quality of mind, and more sure than any other
to foster vulgarity ; and thus we have no ideal to elevate and
guide us or fill us with faith in our destiny. In the meantime,
the manners of Europe threaten us, and we are permitting the

Online LibraryNathaniel Hillyer. EglestonThe North American review (Volume 139) → online text (page 20 of 60)