Thomas B. (Thomas Brackett) Reed.

Modern eloquence; (Volume 5) online

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zation, which has been growing steadily, and which lives
on while the generations die. There is government in
the civilized world, there are reverences, laws, manners
and habits, tastes and principles, and all these make up
the structure of society. Just as the surface of the globe
is composed of various layers of clay, sandstone, slate,
and granite, with successive geological epochs deposited,
and the united strength of which uphold our soil and sup-
port our steps, the moral world is constructed of strata
of laws, customs, opinions, truths, discoveries, senti-
ments, which successive races and generations have de-
posited, and which our souls live upon now. The best
life of the nations that are gone is still in our civilization.
Influences from the Old Testament, from Grecian litera-
ture and character, from Roman heroism and law, are
steadily poured into our moral life from countless
churches and colleges, although the Hebrew State, the
Greek Republics, and the Roman Empire have been
buried for centuries. And so from the German barba-
rians of the Northern forests, from the feudal customs,
from the Crusades, from the Catholic Church in its ripe
power and glory, from the life of Socrates and the intel-
lect of Augustine, from the speech of Paul on Mars Hill
and the thinking of John Huss, from what Bacon wrote
and Shakespeare imagined and Faust invented and New-
ton discovered and Fulton devised ; in short, from all the
victories of heroes and the blood-sealed fidelity of
martyrs and the holy achievements of saints some con-
tributions have been made to that progressive reality
we call civilization, and they all exist around us now as
beneficent forces that ennoble our lives with privileges
and a value which cannot be estimated. Your father may
not have left you any legacy of houses and stock, but the
whole past is your mental and moral father, and that
leaves to every one of us an inheritance which it would
be a miserable bargain for us to sell for a fortune of
millions on condition of being disentangled from the civ-
ilized life of the race.

The poorest man in this neighborhood is immensely
rich, so far as attaining the great objects of life is con-
cerned, especially if he has a family, compared with what
his poverty would be if he could own a hundred square



miles of original nature, and must live on it alone with
his family, cut off from all privileges of society and with
the wealth of civilized influence forever cancelled from
his brain and breast.

Thus we see that the substance of the past lives on and
is vitally present with us now. All that is visible of a na-
tion dies, but its soul survives; the truth it discovered
and illustrated is preserved ; its essence passes into civili-
zation, improves society, and becomes the common prop-
erty of after times.

In the old furniture shops of Boston you can buy chairs
and tables that came out of the Mayflower to an extent
that would load a fleet. However much humbug there
may be about this, thank Heaven the spiritual cargo that
was packed into that little hull is not all unloaded yet.
New England liberty and thrift have been disembarked
from it; half of New York and Ohio and Illinois and
Wisconsin have been heaved out of its hold by invisible
stevedores; and there is enough left yet to set up good
Constitutions in the farther slopes of the Rocky Mountains
and make Kansas free.

Think for a moment, too, of the order in a great city,
and how it is preserved. What passions are boiling in
London and Boston and the streets of New York ! And
how is it that we are kept from conspiracies and mobs
and devastations of license? How is it that the spirit of
our social life is higher in respect of peace than the
aggregate of individual lives, which is the splendid mys-
tery of civilization? It is not by direct and visible pres-
sure of resisting force, but by the fine network of inter-
ests, opinions, reverences, feelings of honor and shame,
fears and loves, disposed over the community, which hold
the brutal elements of our nature in check, as Gulliver
was made prisoner by the threads which the cunning
Lilliputians wove over his body, and one of which they
fastened to each of his hairs.

Does any man say that the laws, the courts and sheriffs,
uphold our order? Plainly the sanctity of the laws does
not consist in their enactments by legislatures, or their
preservation in sheep-skin binding (a style of binding, by
the way, which many of our laws had when they were yet
in the brains of their authors). Sentiments and principles


in the people, faith and loyalty, varnish the laws with
their real majesty.

Once in a while a great officer of the law comes along,
like the venerable Hays, so famous in Boston, who stands
forth as a physical Napoleon of police. It is not by his
personal finite genius that he wears such terror. But he
is a good conductor of the respect for law which is latent
in the community. His frame is electric with the potency
of civil authority everywhere. We had a marshal in
Boston lately that sometimes appeared on a Saturday
night in a circle of gamblers, and though he was but one
man among a score or two, he changed the game very
quick, and he infused a sudden passion for a different
shuffle and cut than any laid down in Hoyle. The play
shifted by magic from whist and loo to leap-frog and all-
fours, because a worthy embodiment of social law, in-
vested with the moral force of civilization, appalled and
scattered them. When the lightning strikes a tree there
is a stream of electricity from the ground that conspires
with the flame from heaven to complete the bolt, else it is
harmless ; and so the law in the guilty men leaps out and
combines with the electric flash from every great officer's
form, to do the work of paralysis. There was
great wisdom sententiously expressed in the exclamation
of a little constable I heard of once who went to arrest
a burly offender against the statutes, and was threatened
with a shaking if he did not " clear out." If it had been
a matter of fists and muscles, the majesty of the law would
have been miserably bruised. But the intrepid little
officer responded : " Do it if you please ; only remember,
if you shake me you shake the whole State of Massa-

The substance of power is that which sways the minds
and hearts of the people ; all else is the show of it. And
so the highest badge of civic authority now is not the
sceptre of a king, not the dress of a president, not the
uniform of a general, but the pole of a constable. The
English or Yankee policeman wears a badge which so-
ciety spontaneously respects, which innocence and weak-
ness instinctively rejoice in, which guilt and knavery
instinctively fear. What is the authority of Nicholas the
Czar, or Louis Napoleon in his rocking-chair of bayo-


nets? (may every point of them prick the tanned hide of
his conscience yet!) what are they but imperial bullies
with military bull-dogs to keep the wrath of the human
race at bay? Mr. Bumble the beadle sits on the throne
of civil power; to him the human race goes down with
honest awe upon its knees.

Surely this nation could better afford to part with its
armies and navy, its forts, guns, magazines, and military
science, than to have an abatement of one per cent, from
the regard which the people have for the forms of a town-
meeting, their deep reverence for the statutes, their quick
submission to a writ, their dread of mobs, their love of
home, and the awe that attends the hearing a sentence of
death from a judge. In the first case the country would
lose some visible facts which represent its strength, and
which might be replenished by taxation ; in the latter case
it would part with forces, inherited from past ages, which
are its strength, and by which it is swung over the abyss
of lawlessness, as the globe is hurried over the black
depths of space by the threads of gravitation that are
more subtle than sunbeams.

Finally, character is one of the prominent substances of
the world, that is, it is one of the things which do the
most as causes to uphold society and quicken it. Char-
acter, in the sense of great personal energy, changes the
face of nature, digs mines, builds railroads, levels moun-
tains, founds cities, evokes factories, dwarfs the oceans to
convenient ponds. And in higher senses, we cannot tell
what impress one original soul like David's, so splendid
in genius, so sensitive to every breath of circumstance, so
sincere in his piety, his sin, and his terrible remorse,
leaves on the fortunes of after generations. His great
heart has been an electric battery to the bosoms of count-
less millions of whom he never dreamed. Who of us is
acute enough to untwist the whole of our debt to the
burly substance of Martin Luther's spirit? Strike him
out of the last three centuries, and you tear out the very
spine of our liberties and mechanical arts; our railroads
and steamships, and most of the material forces of Prot-
estant civilization are rent away with him, for they radiate
from his rough generic thought. The Duke of Welling-
ton assented to the estimate which somebody made, that


the presence of Napoleon on the field was equal to forty
thousand men. See, too, what the character of the
Puritans is doing for New England at this moment. It
gives it a firmer basis than its granite strata. It is the
stamina of the present virtue of those States. It has
built and reared their colleges and schools. It is the
vigor of their intelligence and the sinew of their piety,
and thus is a substantial benefit after the bodily forms
that once housed it are crumbled. And advert, for a
moment, to what the character of Washington has done,
and will yet do, for America and freedom. Better for
our country in the crisis of its history to have lost its col-
lected treasures, to have parted with half its territory and
half its citizens, than to have been robbed of the heart of
Washington. His soldiers derived courage, faith, and
food from his serene and hopeful majesty, and during
that terrible winter at Valley Forge the nourishment of
future ages was in the continuance of the resources in
that one breast. His character is part of this Western
W^orld forever, as much part of it as our forests and our

So there is an ascending series of creative and substan-
tial forces, beginning with mechanical energies and run-
ning up through chemical affinities, vital powers, percep-
tion, will, ideas, to personality. We often use the ex-
pression with regard to a person in society, that " he is a
man of substance." Generally this phrase conveys the
idea that a man has acquired some property. It would
be very applicable if it stood for the " real estate " which
a man has amassed, that is, for his personal estate of
great qualities, forces of genius, learning, truth, moral
power, and influence. For it happens that, in the su-
preme realm of which we are citizens, and where the
eternal laws tax and weigh us, our personal estate, that
is, what we are, is our real estate. How absurd to use
the word " substance " of a man, and make it signify a
house, bank-stock, a heap of guineas, a store full of mer-
chandise ; tHings that do not touch his humanity at all.
He is the man of substance that has the noble qualities
which belong to human nature packed into him, and that
can stand up, strong and solid, if all the accidents, such
as fame, position, money, worldly consideration, are


stripped away. It would be just as sensible to take a man
in the last stages of consumption, a weak and wasted
frame of bones, and after getting a tailor to dress him
up and pad him out large with batting, to call him a man
of physical substance, as to use that phrase of persons
that only have a market control over some dollars, and
are destitute of the forces and resources that belong to a
mind, heart, and soul. Your Herschel and Newton are
men of intellectual substance, Fenelon and Wesley of
spiritual substance, Wilberforce of moral substance, Lu-
ther of heroic substance, Howard of affectional sub-
stance ; and if we are lean in these qualities, we are shad-
ows, and all the bricks and mortar, land deeds, certifi-
cates, and doubloons, in London cannot redeem us from
being thinner than mush, a body-load of mist and fog.

Character is the culminating substance of nature ; and
we may say here that a man may be what he pleases to be.
The forms of our activity are prescribed for us by nature,
but circumstances do not make the real, central man.
Circumstances often determine how much show a man
shall make. To be famous depends on some fortuities ;
to be a president depends on the acute smellers of a few
politicians and a mysterious set of wires ; to be rich de-
pends on birth or luck; to be intellectually eminent may
depend on the appointment of Providence; but to be a
man, in the sense of substance, depends solely on one's
own noble ambition and determination to live in contact
with God's open atmosphere of truth and right, from
which all true manliness is inspired and fed. We often
talk about ghosts, and wonder, sometimes, at our winter
firesides whether any ghost has ever returned from the
regions of the dead. For one, I am content to leave that
question of revisits to be decided by Mrs. Crowe's " Night
Side of Nature " and the vast and increasing crowd of
spiritual rappers, who are able to make any luckless
spirit beat a tattoo on smooth walnut or mahogany.

Now, the answer we should give if anybody should ask
us if we had ever seen a ghost will depend wholly on our
standard of what a ghost is. Some men would not be
satisfied unless they could shoot a bullet through him
without injuring any intestines. Another would want to
strike a club at him, and have it pass through as though it


were six feet of moonshine. In Dickens's "Christmas
Carol" the old miser was satisfied he beheld his dead
partner's ghost, when he looked right through his
stomach and saw the buttons on the back of his coat.
Any test which would prove that an unfortunate being
had no body would satisfy most persons of its claim to
ghostship. By any such standards we must probably give
up the honor of having seen a ghost. And yet the world
is plentifully spotted with apparitions ; they are all about
us, in the streets and the stalls and the stores ; they are in
the Congress rooms, and editors' chairs, and pulpits,
transacting a great deal of the business of the world,
not revisitants of the earth, because they have never left
it, but shows of people, human haze and ghastliness,
without the substance of energy, virtue, truth, to fill out
the plain promise of their clothes. For our popular
definition of a ghost is just the reverse of the truth; it
makes one consist of a soul without a body, while really
a spectre, an illusion, a humbug of the eyesight and the
touch, is a human body not vitalized through and through
with a soul.

When a person has only money to support his claim
to substance, his highest nature is made up of mortgages
and rent-rolls, notes and titles, a man of bank paper, not
of realities, and a commercial revolution would tear him
up. Some men's claim to substance depends on a large
stock of calicoes ; and a fall in the thermometer of trade
reduces them to zero. Where station is the sole basis of
that claim, the person's soul is a great bladder blown up
by popular breath, and a pin-hole of accident will make
him collapse. But of all those classes which the world
puts forward as its darlings, the dandy is the most re-
moved from the domain of real qualities and takes first
rank as a ghost, since he is " a whiskered essence and an
organized perfume."

The climax of my purpose in this address will be gained
if it will lead any of you to see that the stuff a great soul
is made of is the most real and unwasting material of the
universe, something which moth and rust cannot cor-
rupt, nor death with the tooth of its savage chemistry
impair. As men walk the streets they seem about alike ;
the differences they show seem to be the difference of


height, weight, complexion, and clothes. But it is not so.
As you stand at a little distance from this metropolis,
upon a hill that commands its avenues and circuit, you
see of what various buildings, differing widely in cost and
splendor, its beautiful panorama is composed. And so
would its human inhabitants seem, if you could stajid on
some spiritual eminence and see the realities which their
fleshly tenement conceal. . . . Thence would
we see the churches of our spiritual city ; and over them,
kindred but superior, with more intricate grace and
capacious measure, the cathedral spirits, like such as
Channing, whose voices are bells that call to worship, and
whose thoughts, like spires, are always lifted above the
world, conversing with light and God, rebuking the van-
ity of the earth, and shedding over all below the promise
of immortality.



[Lecture by Charles Kingsley, canon of Westminster (born in Dart-
moor, Devon, June 13, 1819; died in Eversley, Hampshire, England, Jan-
uary 23, 1875), opening his course in America, delivered first in Salem,
Mass., before the Essex Institute, February 16, 1874, and repeated in
Boston the following evening. A brief personal address preceded the
lecture on both occasions. In Salem the prefatory remarks were as
follows : " LADIES AND GENTLEMEN : I .cannot but feel somewhat, and
more than somewhat nervous in addressing you. I am perfectly aware
that I am before a very cultivated and therefore probably a very critical
audience. I may need your mercy, and therefore I hope I shall receive
it through your generosity. You will understand that in a lecture on
Westminster, one of the corporation of which I have the honor to be,
I lecture on it from a standpoint which I call, and I think you will call,
both international, and let me use the good old word, Puritan. I can
never forget that Puritan blood runs in my veins. I can never forget,
I should be ashamed to forget, that my own ancestor was an officer in
Cromwell's army at the very time when his younger brother came over
here with the Pilgrim Fathers to found in New England that family of
Kingsleys which, so far as I hear, have kept up worthily the ancient
name which they brought with them from across the seas. I, too, am
Puritan at heart, and the Puritan instincts in me, I thank God, have
delivered me again and again from many an aesthetic and many an
ecclesiastical temptation. [Applause.] When I come here to you, whose
calling it has been to keep that element, I come here with a certain
fear and trembling as to just judges before whom I have to prove that
I am not unworthy of my Puritan forefathers' age, and not unworthy,
as I hope you are not, of the Puritanism of our race. If the old heathen
Roman could say of our old Teutonic ancestors that they considered it
beneath the dignity of the Deity to be represented in idols, or to be
kept within walls, it is for you and for me to show that we have not
degenerated in the last 1800 years." . . ..... . .

In Boston the lecturer was introduced by " Mark Twain " in the
following words :

"LADIES AND GENTLEMEN: I am here to introduce Mr. Charles



Kingsley, the lecturer of the evening, and I take occasion to observe that
when I wrote the book called ' Innocents Abroad ' [applause] I thought
it was a volume which would bring me at once into intimate relation
with the clergy. But I could bring evidence to show that from that day
to this, this is the first time that I have ever been called upon to perform
this pleasant office of vouching for a clergyman [laughter] and give him
a good unbiased start before an audience. [Laughter.] Now that my
opportunity has come at last, I am appointed to introduce a clergy-
man who needs no introduction in America. [Applause.] And although
I haven't been requested by the committee to indorse him, I volunteer
that [laughter], because I think it is a graceful thing to do; and it is all
the more graceful from being so unnecessary. But the most unneces-
sary thing I could do in introducing the Rev. Charles Kingsley would
be to sound his praises to you, who have read his books and know his
high merits as well as I possibly can, so I waive all that and simply say
that in welcoming him cordially to this land of ours, I believe that I
utter a sentiment which would go nigh to surprising him or possibly to
deafen him, if I could concentrate in my voice the utterance of all those
in America who feel that sentiment. [Applause.] And I am glad to
say that this kindly feeling toward Mr. Kingsley is not wasted, for his
heart is with America, and when he is in his own home, the latchstring
hangs on the outside of the door for us. I know this from personal ex-
perience ; perhaps that is why it has not been considered unfitting that
I should perform this office in which I am now engaged. [Laughter.]
Now for a year, for more than a year, I have been enjoying the hearty
hospitality of English friends in England, and this is a hospitality which
is growing wider and freer every day toward our countrymen. I was
treated so well there, so undeservedly well, that I should always be glad
of an opportunity to extend to Englishmen the good offices of our peo-
ple ; and I do hope that the good feeling, the growing good feeling,
between the old mother country and her strong, aspiring child will con-
tinue to extend until it shall exist over the whole great area of both
nations. I have the honor to introduce to you Rev. Charles Kingsley."
[Applause.] Upon coming forward and acknowledging his greeting the
canon recalled his remarks of the previous evening, as printed in the
morning newspapers, and added : " I approach my audience with pro-
found respect, and no little fear in spite of what Mr. Clemens has said.
1 shall say also, what would seem rather ungrateful toward him, that
if I should fail to please you to-night, you must visit my failure upon
him, not upon me. For it befell that wandering through Westminster
Abbey with him last autumn, he was discoursing of his impressions of
that Abbey during a night visit there with that imagination and with
that tenderness which you almost always find combined with a high gift
of humor ; and he said to me that he had written a lecture on West-
minster Abbey, and asked me to write one upon the same subject to
present if I should lecture to you, and I said to him, ' My generous sir,



you have just made the subject your own, and now throw it over to me.'
Whether he thought there was room enough in the world for us both,
or whether he was as confident as I am of his power to talk upon that
or any other subject far better than I can, he insisted upon my giving a
lecture on Westminster Abbey. So I do ; and if I fail I only ask you to
visit my faults upon his head by making him give his lecture, gratui-
tously of course, as a punishment for myself." [Applause and
laughter.] ].

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN : Reverence for age, at least
so it has long seemed to me, reverence for age, I say, is a
fair test of the vigor of youth ; and conversely, insolence
toward the old and the past, whether in individuals or in
nations, is a sign rather of weakness than of strength.
And the cause, I think, is this. The rich and strong
young natures, which feel themselves capable of original
thought and work, have a corresponding respect for
those who, in the generations gone by, have thought and
worked as they hope to do hereafter. And this temper,
understand me, so far from being servile, or even merely
conservative, usually accompanies true independence of
spirit. The young athlete, like the young race-horse,
does not despise, but emulates, his sire ; even though the
old victor be long past his prime. The young soldier
admires the old general; the young midshipman the old
admiral, just in proportion as he himself is likely to be a
daring and able officer hereafter. The son, when grown
to man's estate, may say to his father, I look on you still
with all respect and admiration. I have learnt, and de-
sire always, to learn from you. But you must be to me
now, not a dictator, but an example. You became what
you are by following your own line ; and you must let me
rival you, and do you honor, by following mine.

This, I believe, is true of nations as well as of indi-

Online LibraryThomas B. (Thomas Brackett) ReedModern eloquence; (Volume 5) → online text (page 26 of 38)