Thomas B. (Thomas Brackett) Reed.

Modern eloquence; (Volume 5) online

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a builder had put lying tiles upon the roof. He saw ships
cast upon the rocks because some smith had put a lying
link in the anchor's cable. He saw the members of a
household burning up with a fatal fever because the
plumber had used lying lead in the drainage. He saw
the captain deceiving himself about the leaks in his boat
and taking sailors forth to a certain death.

And in that hour his whole soul revolted from "the
patriotic lie of the historian, the provident lie of the poli-
tician, the zealous lie of the friend, and the careless lie of
each man to himself." For if untruth is fatal to the per-
manency of buildings, much more is it fatal to excellence


in the soul. For man the beginning of lies is ruin, and
thereof death. Therefore, in John's vision of the city of
God he saw there no sorcerer, no murderer, and no man
" who loveth and maketh a lie." For life's deadliest en-
emy, and its most despicable one, is falseness. In the last
analysis, untruth is inferiority and weakness. When the
teacher lifts the rod, the child without other defense lifts
up the lie as a shield against the blow. When the dying
man asks his friends as to his condition, the strong man,
conscious of his resources to make his friend victorious
over death, speaks the instant truth, while the weak man,
unwilling to confess his poverty of resource, tells this soft
and glistening lie, " To-morrow you will be better."

In the realm of traffic, also, the wise merchant can af-
ford to sell his goods for what they are, but the weak one
feels that he must sell lying threads, lying foods, and lying
drinks. But nature hates lies. She makes each law a
detective. Sooner or later she runs down every falsehood.
A tiny worm may pierce the heart of a young tree, and
the bark may hide the secret gash. But as the days go
on the rain will cut one fibre and the heat another, and
when years have passed, some time when a soft zephyr
goes sighing through the forest, the great tree will come
crashing down. For at last nature will hunt out every
hidden weakness. If the law of truth is the first law in
temple-rearing and palace-building, truth is also the first
law in happiness and character. When Christ pleads for
the new heart, He urges man to break with him who is
the father of lies and swear fidelity to Him who is the
God of truth, whose ways are happiness, and whose paths
are peace.

To that law of truth that firmly fixes foundations for
cathedrals, Ruskin adds the law of obedience. In spring-
ing his wall the architect must plumb the stones in obedi-
ence to the law of gravity. In springing his arch he must
brace it, obeying the laws of resistance. In lifting his
tower he must relate it to the temple, obeying the law of
proportion and symmetry; and he who disobeys one
fundamental law will find great nature pulling his towers
down over his head. For no architect builds as he pleases,
but only as nature pleases, through laws of gravity, stone
and steel. In the kingdom of the soul also obedience is


strength and life, and disobedience is weakness and death.
In the last analysis liberty is a phantom, a dream, a mere
figment of the brain.

Society's greatest peril to-day is the demagogues who
teach and the ignorant classes who believe that there is
such a thing as liberty. The planets have no liberty ; they
follow their sun. The seas know no liberty; they follow
the moon in tidal waves. When the river refuses to keep
within its banks, it becomes a curse and a destruction. It
is the stream that is restrained by its banks that turns
mill-wheels for men. The clouds, too, have their beauty
in that they are led forth in ranks, and columns, gen-
eraled by the night winds. And in proportion as things
pass from littleness toward largeness they go toward
obedience to law. Because the dead leaf obeys nothing,
it flutters down from its bough, giving but tardy recog-
nition to the law of gravity; while our great earth, cov-
ered with cities and civilization, is instantly responsive to
gravity's law. Indeed, he who disobeys any law of na-
ture flings himself athwart her wheels, to be crushed to
powder. And if disobedience is destruction, obedience is
liberty. Obeying the law of steam, man has an engine.
Obeying the law of fire, he has warmth. Obeying the law
of speech, he has eloquence. Obeying the law of sound
thinking, he has leadership. Obeying the law of Christ,
he has character. The stone obeys one law, gravity, and
is without motion. The worm obeys two laws, and has
movement. The bird obeys three laws, and can fly as
well as stand or walk. And as man increases the number
of laws he obeys, he increases in richness of nature, in
wealth, in strength, and influence. Nature loves para-
doxes, and this is her chiefest paradox he who stoops
to wear the yoke of law becomes the child of liberty, while
he who will be free from God's law wears a ball and chain
through all his years. Philosophy reached its highest
fruition in Christ's principle, " Love is the fulfilment of
the law."

Not less important are the laws of beauty and of sacri-
fice. When the marble, refusing to express an impure
or wicked thought, has fulfilled the law of strength, sud-
denly it blossoms into the law of beauty. For beauty is
no outer polish, no surface adornment. Workers in wood


may veneer soft pine with thin mahogany, or hide the
poverty of brick walls behind thin slabs of alabaster. But
real beauty is an interior quality, striking outward and
manifest upon the surface. When the sweet babe is
healthy within, a soft bloom appears upon the cheek with-
out. When ripeness enters the heart of the grape, a pur-
ple flush appears upon the surface of the cluster. Carry
the rude speech of the forest child up to beauty, and it
becomes the musical language of Xenophon. Carry the
rude hut of a savage up to beauty, and it becomes a
marble house. Carry the stumbling thought of a slave
up to beauty, and it becomes the essay of Epictetus. But
beauty obeys the law of sacrifice, and is very simple. The
truly beautiful column stands forth a single marble shaft.
The most perfect capitol has one adornment, an acanthus
leaf. Is Antigone or Rosalind to dress for her marriage
day ? Let her wear one color white and one flower at
her throat a sweet-briar. Does some Burns or Bryant,
standing in the field of blackberries, meditate a poem, let
him prune away all high-sounding phrases, and instead of
adorning one thought in ten glorious sentences, let him
fill ten simple sentences with ten great thoughts. Ours
is a world in which the sweetest song is the simplest.

And when the vestal virgin of beauty has adorned the
temple without, it asks the artist to adorn his soul with
thoughts, and worship, and aspirations. If the body lives
in a marble house, the soul should revolt from building a
mud hut. The law of divine beauty asks the youth to
flee from unclean thoughts and vulgar purposes as from
a bog or foul slough. It bids him flee from irreverence,
vanity, and selfishness as man flees from some plague-
smitten village or filthy garment. How sweet the voice
of beauty that whispers, " Seek whatsoever things are
lovely, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are
virtuous, whatsoever things are of good report." Having
doubled the beauty of his house, having doubled the wis-
dom of his book, man should also double the nobility and
beauty of his life, making the soul within as glorious as
a temple without.

When the palace or temple has been founded in
strength and crowned with beauty, the law of remem-
brance comes in to bid men guard well their treasures.

5 88


This building that the fathers reared out of their
thoughts, their gold, their aspirations and worship, is
theirs, not ours. Rather it is ours only to guard and en-
joy, not to destroy or alter. Our Independence Hall,
England's great Abbey, Italy's St. Peter's, the Parthenon
of Athens, these are not ours. They belong partly to the
noble fathers who built them and partly to the genera-
tions that shall come after us. What we build we may
cast down or change. But their illuminated missals and
books are to be guarded in glass cases and handed for-
ward; their immortal frescoes and statues are to be
watched as we watch the crown jewels of kings ; the doors
of their temples are to be guarded as man once guarded
the gates of the city. Profane, indeed, the destroying
hands lifted upon some ancient marble, or picture, or
bronze! Sacred forever the steps of that temple which
passed the seven good emperors of Rome ! Sacred that
abbey where the parliaments of kings arid churches oft
did meet! Little wonder that men, worn and weary by
life's fierce strife, make long pilgrimages to the Duomo
in Florence, or the great square in Venice, or to that
marble hall in Milan. Frederic Harrison thinks the Par-
thenon of Phidias is as sacred as the " Iliad" of Homer;
Giotto's tower in Florence is as precious as the " Para-
diso " of Dante ; the Abbey of England is as immortal as
the " Hamlet " of Shakespeare. No punishment can be
too severe for him who lifts a vandal s hand to destroy
these treasure-houses of great souls.

And then, like a sweet voice falling from the sky, come
the words : "Ye are the temple of God. This house not
made with hands is eternal in the heavens." He who asks
men to guard dead statues and the decaying canvas will
himself guard and keep in immortal remembrance the
soul-temple of the dying statesman, and hero, and mar-
tyr. If Milton says that " a book is the precious life-blood
of a master spirit embalmed and treasured up on purpose
for a life beyond life," and affirms that we may as well
" kill a man as kill a good book," then the divine voice
whispers that the soul is the precious life-temple into
which three-score years and ten have swept their
thoughts, and dreams, and hopes, and prayers, and tears,


and committed all this treasure into the hands of that
God who never slumbers and never sleeps.

Slowly the soul's temple rises. Slowly reason and con-
science make beautiful the halls of imagination, the gal-
leries of memory, the chambers of affection. When suc-
cess makes the colors so bright as to dazzle, trouble
comes in to soften the tints. If adversity lends gloom to
some room of memory, hope enters to lighten the dark
lines. For character is a structure that rises under the
direction of a divine Master Builder. Full often a divine
form enters the earthly scene. Thoughts that are not
man's enter his mind. Hopes that are not his, like angels,
knock at his door to aid him in his work. Even death is
no "Vandal." When the body hath done its work, death
pulls the body down his scaffold to reveal to men a ceil-
ing glorious with lustrous beauty. At the gateway of
ancient Thebes watchmen stood to guard the wicked city.
Upon the walls of bloody Babylon soldiers walked the
long night through, ever keeping towers where tyranny
dwelt. And if kings think that dead stones and breathless
timbers are worthy of guarding, we may believe that God
cloth set keepers to guard the living city of man's soul.
He gives us angels' charge over the fallen hero, the dying
mother and the sleeping child. He will not forget His
dead. Man's soul is God's living temple. It is not kept
by earthly hands. It is eternal in the heavens.

Photogravure after a photograph from life



[Lecture by Mrs. Julia Ward Howe, author, poet, public speaker

(born in New York City, May 27, 1819; ), written for a course of

popular lectures arranged by the New England Woman's Club, Boston,
Mass., and delivered before the Contemporary Club of Philadelphia,
Penn., in March, 1893.]

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN : The word " society " has
reached the development of two opposite meanings. The
generic term applies to the body politic en masse ; the
specific term is technically used to designate a very limited
portion of that body. The use, nowadays, of the slang
expression, " sassiety" is evidence that we need a word
which we do not as yet possess. It is with this depart-
ment of the human fellowship that I now propose to oc-
cupy myself, and especially with one of its achievements,
considered by some a lost art the salon.

This prelude of mine is somewhat after the manner of
Polonitts, but as Shakespeare must have had occasion to
observe, the mind of age has ever a retrospective turn.
Those of us who are used to philosophizing must always
go back from a particular judgment to some governing
principle which we have found, or think we have found
in long experience. The question whether salons are pos-
sible in America leads my thoughts to other questions
which appear to me to lie behind this one, and which pri-
marily concern the well-being of civilized man.

The uses of society, in the sense of an assemblage for
social intercourse, may be briefly stated as follows : First
of all, such assemblages are needed in order to make peo-
ple better friends. Secondly, they are needed to enlarge

From "Is Polite Society Polite?" Houghtin, Mifflin & Co. Published by


the individual mind by the interchange of thought and
expression with other minds. Thirdly, they are needed
for the utilization of certain sorts and degrees of talent
which would not be available either for professional, busi-
ness, or educational work, but which, appropriately com-
bined and used, can forward the severe labors included
under these heads by the instrumentality of sympathy, en-
joyment, and good taste.

Any social custom or institution which can accomplish
one or more of these ends, will be found of important use
in the work of civilization ; but here, as well as elsewhere,
the ends which the human heart desires are defeated by
the poverty of human judgment and the general ignorance
concerning the relation of means to ends. Society, thus
far, is a sort of lottery, in which there are few prizes and
many blanks, and each of these blanks represents some
good to which men and women are entitled, and which
they should have, and could, if they only knew how to
come at it. Thus, social intercourse is sometimes so
ordered that it develops antagonism instead of harmony,
and makes one set of people the enemies of another set,
dividing not only circles, but friendships, and families.

This state of things defeats society's first object, which,
in my view, is to make people better friends. Secondly,
it will happen, and not seldom, that the frequent meeting
together of a number of people, necessarily restricted,
instead of enlarging the social horizon of the individual,
will tend to narrow it more and more, so that sets and
cliques will revolve around small centers of interest and
refuse to extend their scope. In this way, end number
two, the enlargement of the individual mind is lost sight
of, and, end number three, the interchange of thought
and experience does not have room to develop itself.
People say what they think others want to hear; they
profess experience which they have never had. Here,
consequently, a sad blank is drawn, where we might well
look for the greatest prize ; and, end number four, the
utilization of secondary or even tertiary talents is de-
feated by the application of a certain fashion varnish
which effaces all features of individuality, and produces a
wondrously dull surface, where we might have hoped for
a brilliant variety of form and color.


These defects of administration being easily recognized,
the great business of social organizations ought to be to
guard against them in such wise that the short space and
limited opportunity of individual life should have offered
to it the possibility of a fair and generous investment, in-
stead of the uncertain lottery of which I spoke just now.

One of the great needs of society in all times is that its
guardians shall take care that rules or institutions devised
for some good end shall not become so perverted, in the
use made of them, as to bring about the result most op-
posed to that which they were intended to secure. This,
I take it, is the true meaning of the saying that " the
price of liberty is eternal vigilance," no provision to se-
cure this being sure to avail without the constant direc-
tion of personal care to the object.

The institution of the salon might, in some periods of
social history, greatly forward the substantial and good
ends of human companionship. I can easily fancy that,
in other times and under other circumstances, its influ-
ence might be detrimental to general humanity and good
fellowship. We can, in imagination, follow the two pro-
cesses which I have here in mind. The strong action of
a commanding character, or of a commanding interest,
may, in the first instance, draw together those who belong
together. Fine spirits, communicative and receptive, will
obey the fine electric force which seeks to combine
them, the great wits, and the people who can appreciate
them; the poets, and their fit hearers; philosophers,
statesmen, economists, and the men and women who will
be able and eager to learn from the informal overflow of
their wisdom and knowledge. Here we may have a
glimpse of a true republic of intelligence. What should
overthrow it? Why should it not last forever, and be
handed down from one generation to another?

The salon is an insecure institution ; first, because the
exclusion of new material, of new men and new ideas,
may so girdle such a society that its very perfection shall
involve its death. Then, on account of the false ideas and
artificial methods which self-limiting society tends to in-
troduce, in time the genuine basis of association disap-
pears from view; the great name is wanted for the
reputation of the salon, not the great intelligence for its


illumination. The moment that you put the name in
place of the individual you introduce an element of in-
sincerity and failure.

There is a sort of homage quite common in society,
which amounts to such flattery as this : " Madam, I as-
sure you that I consider you an eminently brilliant and
successful sham. Will you tell me your secret, or shall
I, a worker in the same line, tell you mine ? " Again, the
contradictory objects of our desired salon are its weak-
ness. We wish it to exclude the general public, but we
dreadfully desire that it shall be talked about and envied
by the general public.

These two opposite aims a severe restriction of mem-
bership, and a limited extension of reputation are very
likely to destroy the social equilibrium of any circle,
coterie, or association. Such contradictions have deep
roots. Even the general conduct of neighborhood evinces
them. People are often concerned lest those who live
near them should infringe upon the rights and reserves of
their household. In large cities people sometimes boast,
with glee, that they have no acquaintance with the fam-
ilies dwelling on either side of them. And yet, in some
of those very cities, social intercourse is limited by re-
gions, and one street of fine houses will ignore another,
which is, to all appearances, as fine and as reputable.
Under these circumstances some may naturally ask:
"Who is my neighbor?" In the sense of the good
Samaritan, mostly no one. [Applause.]

Dante has given us pictures of the ideal good and the
ideal evil association. The company of his demons is
distracted by incessant warfare. Weapons are hurled
back and forth between them, curses and imprecations,
while the solitary souls of great sinners abide in the tor-
ture of their own flame. As the great poet has intro-
duced to us a number of his acquaintance in this infernal
abode, we may suppose him to have given us his idea of
much of the society of his own time. Such appeared to
him that part of the World which, with the Flesh and
the Devil, completes the trinity of evil. But, in his
" Paradise," what glimpses does he give us of the lofty
spiritual communion which then, as now, redeemed hu-
manity from its low discredit, its spite and malice! Re-



sist as we may, the Christian order is prevailing, and will
more and more prevail. At the two opposite poles of
popular affection and learned persuasion, it did overcome
the world, ages ago. In the intimate details of life, in the
spirit of ordinary society, it will penetrate more and more.
We may put its features out of sight and out of mind, but
they are present in the world about us, and what we may
build in ignorance or defiance of them will not stand.
Modern society itself is one of the results of this world
conquest which was crowned with thorns nearly two thou-
sand years ago. In spite of the selfishness of all classes of
men and women, this conquest puts the great goods of
life within the reach of all. [Applause.]

I speak of Christianity here, because, as I see it, it
stands in direct opposition to the natural desire of privi-
leged classes and circles to keep the best things for their
own advantage and enjoyment. " What, then ! " will you
say, " shall society become an agrarian mob ? " By no
means. Its great domain is everywhere crossed by
boundaries. All of us have our proper limits, and should
keep them, when we have once learned them.

But all of us have a share, too, in the good and glory
of human destiny. The free course of intelligence and
sympathy in our own commonwealth established here a
social unity which is hard to find elsewhere. Do not let
any of us go against this. Animal life itself begins with a
cell, and slowly unfolds until it generates the great elec-
tric currents which impel the world of sentient beings.
The social and political life of America has passed out of
the cell state into the sweep of a wide and brilliant ef-
ficiency. Let us not try to imprison this truly cosmopoli-
tan life in cells, going back to the instinctive selfhood of
the barbaric state.

Nature starts from cells, but develops by centers. If
we want to find the true secret of social discrimination
let us seek it in the study of centers, central attractions,
each subordinated to the governing harmony of the uni-
verse but each working to keep together the social atoms
that belong together. There was a time in which the
stars in our beautiful heaven were supposed to be kept
in their places by solid mechanical contrivances, the
heaven itself being an immense body that revolved with


the rest. The progress of science has taught us that the
luminous orbs which surround us are not held by mechan-
ical bonds, but that natural laws of attraction bind the
atom to the globe, and the globe to its orbit. Even so
is it with the social atoms which compose humanity.
Each of them has his place, his right, his beauty ; and each
and all are governed by laws of belonging which are as
delicate as the tracery of the frost, and as mighty as the
frost itself. [Applause.]

The club is taking the place of the salon to-day, and
not without reason. I mean by this the study, culture,
and social clubs, not those modern fortresses in which a
man rather takes refuge from society than really seeks or
finds it. I have just said that mankind are governed by
centers of natural attraction around which their lives
come to revolve. In the course of human progress the
higher centers exercise an ever-widening attraction, and
the masses of mankind are brought more and more under
their influence. Now, the affection of fraternal sympathy
and good-will is as natural to man, though not so imme-
diate in him, as are any of the selfish instincts. Objects
of moral and intellectual worth call forth this sympathy in
a high and ever-increasing degree, while objects in which
self is paramount call forth just the opposite, and foster
in one and all the selfish principle, which is always one of
emulation, discord, and mutual distrust.

While a salon may be administered in a generous and
disinterested manner, I should fear that it would often
prove an arena in which the most selfish leadings of
human nature would assert themselves. In the club, a
sort of public spirit necessarily develops itself. Each of
us would like to have his place there, yes, and his ap-
pointed little time of shining, but a worthy object, such
as will hold together men and women on an intellectual
basis, gradually wins for itself the place of command in
the affections of those who follow it in company. Each
of these will find that his unaided efforts are insufficient

Online LibraryThomas B. (Thomas Brackett) ReedModern eloquence; (Volume 5) → online text (page 18 of 38)