Thomas B. (Thomas Brackett) Reed.

Modern eloquence; (Volume 5) online

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one hundred. It rolled to the edge of the curbstone and
fell into the gutter, and our New York gutters are per-
fectly detestable, they are generally very deep and very
thick; the jewel rolled into it and was out of sight; the
lady took her delicate parasol and poked about in the
gutter, then brought it up, but it was of no use ; stripping
the sleeve that covered her white arm, down went the
white arm into the mud, and she poked about till she got
the gem ; she held it daintily between her fingers, and I
could not help but laugh to see her shake off the mud
and go into a shop near by to get her arm cleansed. You
do not blame her for seeking to rescue her gem. But a
man is worth more than a diamond !

How fearful we are lest we should come in contamina-
tion with that which is degrading ! If you should see an
eagle you would gaze upon it, for it is the king of birds,
a noble bird. You see his broad wings fanning the air as
he rises up. As you watch him, you see him hovering,


then making one dive with the swiftness of an arrow.
You watch for his uprise; you see him, and what has he
in his beak? It is a serpent! See the slimy twining
form ! He has it firm in his beak. And now he rises to
take it to his eyrie. Up! Up! But why flutters that
eagle now ? See ! See ! The serpent is twining its slimy
folds about his body. It has crippled a wing. Ah yes!
it has crippled a wing. Now see him flutter. The ser-
pent has twined himself round his throat. It has parted
the beak. And now see it about to strike the bird as it
twines over and holds another wing. Ah! He goes
down, slowly, slowly, slowly, and his enemy is about to
strike him. Where is the man of you that would not
crush the serpent's head as he falls heavily on the ground,
and let the eagle go free again?

There are men that are fettered, that are thus bound,
thus entwined in the coil of the serpent, and they need
help. They are crying for help all around, and we seek
to give it them. We have formed this organization on
the principle that it is our duty to help our neighbor.
" Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." When I stop
the weakness of my brother I am not made partaker of
his weakness. The strongest men, morally speaking, that
have lived, have been those who have imparted the most
strength to their weaker brethren. And when I speak
to the Young Men's Christian Association perhaps I may
bring up a remark that was made to me by a minister of
the Gospel, as an objection to our movement. He said :

"All that you have said of the evil I believe! It de-
bases more ministers, more Church members, cripples
more efforts of our city missions, and hinders more the
efficacy of the preaching of the Gospel, than any other
agency in this land ; but I do not agree with you in your
method of getting rid of it."

"How so, sir?"

" Because you are attempting to remove a moral evil
by a physical agency."

I said : " It is a moral evil produced by a physical

" Yes," said he, " you may put it in that light if you
choose ; but there is a higher, nobler, and grander, and
more effectual remedy than any abstinence society."



Said I: "What is that?"

He replied : " The grace of God."

Now I do not wish to be misrepresented in what I have
to say here. Please hear all I say and do not misrepre-
sent me. There are two classes of men who speak of the
grace of God being able to save them ; with one class it is
pure, unadulterated cant; and if there is anything in the
world I hate more than another it is cant. When a man
who knows nothing of the power of the grace of God, a
man who does not know what he means when he speaks
of the grace of God, a man whose whole life gives the lie
to his acceptance of the Bible as a rule of faith and prac-
tice, when such a man holds up his hands when we want
him to work in any good movement, and says, " Oh, I am
safe, I am trusting to the grace of God," that is pure, un-
adulterated cant. [Applause.] Infidels tell us that we
who profess to be religious use a great deal of cant. I
have found more cant among skeptics than I have found
among Christians; they are full of it; they are the most
bigoted set on the face of the earth; although they talk
about bigotry and cant you will find more in the ranks of
infidels than in the ranks of those who profess Chris-
tianity. Another class, I believe, are sincere ; I think they
mean what they say.

I am one of those who believe that the grace of God
bringeth salvation. I am one of those who believe in the
renewing and sanctifying influence of the grace of God on
the human heart. I am one of those who believe that
man cannot work his way to heaven, because if he could,
I do not see how he could join in the song of " Worthy
the Lamb," for the Lamb would have nothing to do with
his salvation if he worked it out himself. "I am one of
those who believe that a man may be a reformed liar, a
reformed cheat, a reformed drunkard; and in so far as he
is reformed in these respects so far good ; but he may be
no more a reformed man than Judas was when he be-
trayed the Saviour. The grace of God alone, operating
upon his heart by the influence of His Spirit can reform
the man. But suppose I go into a cellar and see a man
lying on a heap of rotten straw with a bundle of rags for,
his pillow, naked, hungry, drunken ; I go there, if you
please, without my Bible, without a tract, without homily^


v/ithout any intention of offering prayer. I go with a
purely human agency, soap and water. I cleanse him of
his filth. And I go with a suit of clothes and I clothe
him ; a loaf of bread and I feed him ; the abstinence prin-
ciple and I make him sober. I bring him out clean,
clothed, fed, and sober. Have not I done a good work?
So far as it goes, yes ; but these people say : " It does not
go far enough to suit us." It goes as far as we ever said
our principle would go; but I ask any Christian man, I
appeal to any Christian minister, is not that man better
prepared to understand and appreciate the truth which
he must hear and receive to be saved, than he was down
there ? And have not I by the mere act of bringing him
out of that position done a good work ? And may I not
pray to God to sanctify these means to a higher end than
merely making him sober and putting good clothes upon
his back? Can I not look at this movement I advocate
in this light? I tell you if I did not, I should lose faith in
it; I should lose my courage; I should lose my energy.
When I feel sad and dispirited and weary and worn, I
think of the temperance movement as the handmaid to
Christianity. And then I get nerve and strength to go
to battle against this terrific evil with tenfold more vigor.
A gentleman once said to me : " If you are a Christian,
you have the grace of God, and that is able to keep you
from drunkenness without abstinence. Teetotalism is
not necessary if you have the grace of God." Now why
will not men look at this evil of drunkenness as produced
by a physical agency ? It is produced by an effect on the
brain and nervous system. I say it is dishonoring the
grace of God to use such an argument, as His grace will no
more prevent drink from affecting my brain and nervous
system if I take it, than it will prevent laudanum from af-
fecting me, if I take that? If I have any grace in my heart
it prompts me to pray in the language of the admirable
pattern prayer " Lead us not into temptation." If for the
trial of my faith and patience, He says that I shall be
tempted I have His word for it that I shall not be tempted
more than I am able to bear, and that in every case ther
will be a way of escape ; but if I trust what I think I have
got of the grace of God, and walk voluntarily into temp-
tation, I shut myself out of the pale of that promise, and



render it amazingly doubtful whether I have got any grace
or not. The evidence that I have the grace of God in
my heart is when I abstain from all appearance of evil
and shrink from it in abhorrence.

I told you when I commenced that I had not time to
arrange thoughts and ideas with regard to this matter. I
want, if possible, to say something that shall make all
these young men and old, minister and layman, feel that
there is an amount of degradation in the land and that
they are responsible for it. A man is responsible if he
does not protest. You hold us in America responsible for
slavery unless we hold up our hand against it. Of every
man in the North who does not, you say he is sympathiz-
ing with slavery; he is a pro-slavery man; there is no
half-and-half, it must be either anti-slavery or pro-slavery.
So, unless we protest against the cause that produces
these fearful effects we are in some degree guilty. But I
will say that all our individual efforts are wanted if we
are to do anything for the benefit of our fellow men. It
is a privilege, the highest position a man can occupy in
this world is to stand as a machine connected with his
Maker by a bond of living faith, willing to work and leave
the results with Him. Our part is to do all in our power
to work, pray, and believe; have faith that is faith; and
when we say faith we mean faith, we do not mean what
some people call trust.

Allow me to tell a story, although it is an absurd one.
I do not know that I can find anything better to express
my idea. A minister related it, and so I may. He said :
" A great many people's faith is like the old woman's
trust. The horse ran away with a wagon in which she was
seated and she was in imminent peril. But she was res-
cued and some one said to her :

" ' Madam, how did you feel when the horse ran
away ? '

" ' Well,' said she, ' I hardly know how I felt ; you see, I
trusted in Providence at first and when the harness broke,
then I gave up.' '

That is it; that is not faith; faith is not dependent on
results. Suppose you are sick and see no results? Then
you must exercise faith and work on. Faith is walking
right into a black cloud, though you see no sign of day-


light beyond, though you see no silver lining. Faith is
walking to the edge of the precipice and then stop?
No, but setting your foot right into the void, to find solid
rock rise up to rest upon and so onward; that is faith.
[Applause.] Now let use have faith when we work for
Him. Believe that He approves every effort put forth
in His name and in His fear. We of ourselves can do
nothing. That I became aware of a great many years
since. Of myself I can do nothing ; my words are simply
breath and will affect nothing. I rode last winter across
the prairies for about two hours in a railway train, and
could see neither hill, nor bush, nor house nor tree; it is
like being out of sight of land as they say, only you can
see nothing but land nothing but the land and the sky ;
and the tall rank heavy grass grows there in such luxuri-
ance as would astonish you. Sometimes there is a fire
in the prairies, and those who are acquainted with it know
when they see a red glare in the sky that they must watch,
and they fight fire with fire. They pull up the grass in a
large circle, then they lay it down by the standing grass
and set fire to it. The flame blows from them in every
'direction and by the time the flood of fire comes up they
are removed from it. A missionary party was passing
across the prairie toward their destination when they
halted for a while, and some one cried: "Look, look
yonder see, what is that?"

A trapper shading his eyes with his hand, said: "The
prairie is on fire we are lost, lost ! The fire travels
twenty miles an hour and nothing will remain of us but
our blackened corpses." " Haste, haste," said he, " we
must fight fire with fire. Every man, woman, and child of
you work, work for your lives ! Pull up the grass in a
circle larger yet, larger yet. Pull it up, quick! quick!
Lay it by the standing grass. I feel the first flush of the
heat upon rny brow like the hot breath of the simoon;
work, work for your lives ! within half an hour the fire
will be upon us. Bring the fire apparatus."

The apparatus was brought and there were but two
matches. They hastily struck one and it failed. The one
match left was their last earthly hope. The fire had
reached within twenty miles of them. Hush !

Pressing his hand upon his brow the missionary said :


" God help us in this our extremity help us, if it be Thy
will. This is our last hope; our last hope, but in Thee
our last human agency."

And reverently bowing and praying, they struck the
match. It caught fire. The grass was kindled and the
flames went away from them in every direction, and when
the waves of fire met the flood of flame, they mingled to-
gether and leaped as if in joy to heaven that the noble
band had escaped.

Brothers, our instruments in themselves are as feeble as
that match. Ere we put forth let us say : " God help us
for His great name's sake. Help us, if it be Thy will and
we shall yet stand in a circle while the flames rage harm-
lessly around us and those saved by our agency." Then
we say to you, will you look upon this movement as one
of the great instrumentalities for elevating the degraded
and the debased in this land ? Give it your prayerful seri-
ous consideration; and may God help you, according to
the dictates of a pure conscience and His word!



[Lecture by Frederic Harrison, lawyer and critic (born in London,
England, October 18, 1831; ), delivered before The London In-
stitution for the Diffusion of Knowledge, in 1878.]

It is the fashion for those who have any connection
with letters to expatiate on the infinite blessings of litera-
ture, and the miraculous achievements of the press: to
extol, as a gift above price, the taste for study and the
love of reading. Far be it from me to gainsay the inesti-
mable value of good books, or to discourage any man
from reading the best; but I often think that we forget
that other side to this glorious view of literature the
misuse of books, the debilitating waste of brain in aimless,
promiscuous, vapid reading, or even, it may be, in the
poisonous inhalation of mere literary garbage and bad
men's worst thoughts.

For what can a book be more than the man who wrote
it? The brightest genius seldom puts the best of his own
soul into his printed page; and some famous men have
certainly put the worst of theirs. Yet are all men desira-
ble companions, much less teachers, able to give us ad-
vice, even of those who get reputation and command a
hearing? To put out of the question that writing which is
positively bad, are we not, amidst the multiplicity of books
and writers, in continual danger of being drawn off by
what is stimulating rather than solid, by curiosity after
something accidentally notorious, by what has no intelli-
gible thing to recommend it, except that it is new? Now,
to stuff our minds with what is simply trivial, simply
curious, or that which at best has but a low nutritive



power, this is to close our minds to what is solid and en-
larging and spiritually sustaining.

Whether our neglect of the great books comes from
our not reading at all, or from an incorrigible habit of
reading the little books, it ends in just the same thing.
And that thing is ignorance of all the greater literature
of the world. To neglect all the abiding parts of knowl-
edge for the sake of the evanescent parts is really to know
nothing worth knowing. It is in the end the same,
whether we do not use our minds for serious study at all,
or whether we exhaust them by an impotent voracity for
desultory " information " a thing as fruitful as whistling.
Of the two evils I prefer the former. At least, in that
case, the mind is healthy and open. It is not gorged and
enfeebled by excess in that which cannot nourish, much
less enlarge and beautify our nature.

But there is much more than this. Even to those who
resolutely avoid the idleness of reading what is trivial, a
difficulty is presented a difficulty every day increasing
by virtue even of our abundance of books. What are the
subjects, what are the class of books we are to read, in
what order, with what connection, to what ultimate use or

Even those who are resolved to read the better books
are embarrassed by a field of choice practically boundless.
The longest life, the greatest industry, joined to the most
powerful memory, would not suffice to make us profit
from a hundredth part of the world of books before us.
If the great Newton said that he seemed to have been all
his life gathering a few shells on the shore, whilst a
boundless ocean of truth still lay beyond and unknown to
him, how much more to each of us must the sea of litera-
ture be a pathless immensity beyond our powers of vision
or of reach an immensity in which industry itself is use-
less without judgment, method, discipline; where it is of
infinite importance what we can learn and remember,
and. of utterly no importance what we may have once
looked at or heard of. Alas ! the most of our reading
leaves as little mark even in our own education as the
foam that gathers round the keel of a passing boat !

For myself, I am inclined to think the most useful help
to reading is to know what we should not read, what we


can keep out from that small cleared spot in the over-
grown jungle of " information," the corner which we can
call our ordered patch of fruit-bearing knowledge. The
incessant accumulation of fresh books must hinder- any
real knowledge of the old ; for the multiplicity of volumes
becomes a bar upon our use of any. In literature espe-
cially does it hold that we cannot see the wood for the

How shall we choose our books? Which are the best,
the eternal, indispensable books? To all to whom read-
ing is something more than a refined idleness these ques-
tions recur, bringing with them the sense of bewilder-
ment; and a still, small voice within us is forever crying
out for some guide across the Slough of Despond of an
illimitable and ever-swelling literature. How many a
man stands beside it, as uncertain of his pathway as the
Pilgrim, when he who dreamed the immortal dream heard
him " break out with a lamentable cry ; saying, what shall
I do ? " And this, which comes home to all of us at times,
presses hardest upon those who have lost the opportunity
of systematic education, who have to educate themselves,
or who seek to guide the education of their young people.

Systematic reading is but little in favor even amongst
studious men; in a true sense it is hardly possible for,
women. A comprehensive course of home study, and a
guide to books, fit for the highest education of women, is
yet a blank page remaining to be filled. Generations of
men of culture have labored to organize a system of
reading and materials appropriate for the methodical edu-
cation of men in academic lines. Teaching equal in men-
tal calibre to any that is open to men in universities, yet
modified for the needs of those who must study at home,
remains in the dim pages of that melancholy volume en-
titled "Libri valde desidcrati."

I do not aspire to fill one of those blank pages ; but I
long to speak a word or two, as the Pilgrim did to Neigh-
bor Pliable, upon the glories that await those who wiU
pass through the narrow wicket-gate. On this, if one can
find anything useful to say, it may be chiefly from the
memory of the waste labor and pitiful stumbling in the
dark which fill up so much of the travail that one is fain
to call one's own education. We who have wandered in


the wastes so long, and lost so much of our lives in our
wandering, may at least offer warnings to younger way-
farers, as men who in thorny paths have borne the heat
and burden of the day might give a clue to their journey
to those who have yet a morning and a noon. As I look
back and think of those cataracts of printed stuff which
honest compositors set up, meaning, let us trust, no harm,
and which at least found them in daily bread, printed
stuff which I and the rest of us, to our infinitely small
profit, have consumed with our eyes, not even making an
honest living of it, but much impairing our substance, I
could almost reckon the printing press as amongst the
scourges of mankind. I am grown a wiser and a sadder
man, importunate, like that Ancient Mariner, to tell each
blithe wedding guest the tale of his shipwreck on the
infinite sea of printers' ink, as one escaped by mercy and
grace from the region where there is water, water, every-
where, and not a drop to drink.

A man of power, who has got more from books than
most of his contemporaries, once said: " From a habit of
reading, do not mind what you read ; the reading of bet-
ter books will come when you have a habit of reading the
inferior." We need not accept this obiter dictum of Lord
Sherbrooke. A habit of reading idly debilitates and cor-
rupts the mind for all wholesome reading; the habit of
reading wisely is one of the most difficult habits to ac-
quire, needing strong resolution and infinite pains; and
reading for mere reading's sake, instead of for the sake of
the good we gain from reading, is one of the worst and
commonest and most unwholesome habits we have.

And so our inimitable humorist has made delightful fun
of the solid books, which no gentleman's library should
be without, the Humes, Gibbons, Adam Smiths, which,
he says, are not books at all, and prefers some " kind-
hearted play-book," or at times the "Town and County

Poor Lamb has not a little to answer for, in the revived
relish for garbage unearthed from old theatrical dung-
heaps. Be it jest or earnest, I have little patience with
the Elia-tic philosophy of the frivolous. Why do we still
suffer the traditional hypocrisy about the dignity of litera-
ture literature, I mean, in the gross, which includes



about equal parts of what is useful and what is useless?
Why are books as books, writers as writers, readers as
readers, meritorious, apart from any good in them, or
anything that we can get from them? Why do we pride
ourselves on our powers of absorbing print, as our grand-
fathers did on their gifts in imbibing port, when we know
that there is a mode of absorbing print, which makes it
impossible that we can ever learn anything good out of

Our stately Milton said in a passage which is one of the
watchwords of the English race, " as good almost kill a
Man as kill a good Book." But has he not also said that
he would " have a vigilant eye how Bookes demeane
themselves, as well as men; and do sharpest justice on
them as malefactors " ? . . . Yes ! they do kill the
good book who deliver up their few and precious hours of
reading to the trivial book ; they make it dead for them ;
they do what lies in them to destroy " the precious life-
blood of a master-spirit, imbalm'd and treasured up on
purpose to a life beyond life " ; they " spill that season'd
life of man preserv'd and stor'd up in Bookes." For in
the wilderness of books most men, certainly all busy men,
must strictly choose. If they saturate their minds with
the idler books, the " good book," which Milton calls " an
immortality rather than a lie," is dead to them : it is a
book sealed up and buried.

It is most right that in the great republic of letters there
should be freedom of intercourse and a spirit of equality.
Every reader who holds a book in his hand is free of the
inmost minds of men past and present; their lives both
within and without the pale of their uttered thoughts are
unveiled to him; he needs no introduction to the greatest;
he stands on no ceremony with them ; he may, if he be so
minded, scribble " doggerel " on his Shelley, or he may
kick Lord Byron, if he please, into a corner. He hears
Burke perorate, and Johnson dogmatize, and Scott tell
his border tales, and Wordsworth muse on the hillside,
without the leave of any man, or the payment of any toll.
In the republic of letters there are no privileged orders or
places reserved. Every man who has written a book,
even the diligent Mr. Whitaker, is in one sense an au-
thor; "a book's a book although there's nothing in't";


and every man who can decipher a penny journal is in one
sense a reader. And your "general reader," like the
grave-digger in " Hamlet," is hail-fellow with all the
mighty dead; he pats the skull of the jester; batters the

Online LibraryThomas B. (Thomas Brackett) ReedModern eloquence; (Volume 5) → online text (page 12 of 38)