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THE GENIUS OF SOLITUDE.
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NATURE AND OF MAN;
Ttie Loneliness of Human Life.
WILLIAM ROUNSEVILLE ALGER.
Hast du Begriff von Oed' und Einsamkeit f
Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1866, by
W. R. ALGER,
in the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the District of Massachusetts.
WHOSE GENEROUS HEART BRINGS HIM INTO SYMPATHY
WITH THE MULTITUDE OF MEN FROM
WHOM HIS LOFTY MIND WOULD
THESE PAGES ARE DEDICATED
REVERENCE AND GRATITUDE.
THOSE who have the key for interpreting the signs
of genuine thought and emotion will perceive that this
book has sprung sincerely from the inmost life of the
writer. His ambition has been to make it the Book
of Solitude, whose readers may learn from it how at
the same time to win the benefits and shun the' evils
of being alone. The subject the conditions and in-
fluences of solitude in its various forms is so largely
concerned with disturbed feelings that it is difficult, in
treating it, to keep free from everything unhealthy, ex-
cessive, or eccentric. In view of this, great pains have
been taken to avoid every morbid extravagance, and
stay close by the standards of sanity, truth, and cheer-
fulness. For an author ought not to dishearten, but
to inspire his readers ; not to exhale around them an
infecting atmosphere of hates, griefs, and despairs, but
to warm and strengthen them with his health, valor,
and contentment. We grow old to trust and joy, and
they become vapid. Doubt and sadness keep their
fresh force, we are always young to them. They should,
therefore, never be disseminated. In treating themes
pertaining to the deepest emotions, the temptations to
satire and to sentimentality are both strong ; but for the
exertion of a sound influence those temptations should
be resisted. Faith, direct sincerity, undiseased tender-
ness, and the authority of well-mastered experience, are
the best qualities in a teacher.
In dealing with the affairs of the heart, every form
of unfeelingness is an offence. It is by drawing out
and satisfying, not by freezing or searing, the affec-
tions, that true happiness and peace are to be won.
The warm effusion of Christianity is better adapted to
human nature than the dry chill of Stoicism. Every
man obscurely feels, though scarcely any man distinctly
understands, the intimacy and vastness of his connections
with his race. It is true that the real world of the soul
is an invisible place, removed from the rush and chatter
of crowds, and that the most important portion of life
is the secret and solitary portion. Yet the most influen-
tial element even of this secluded world and this hidden
life, is the element which consists of the ideas and feel-
ings we habitually cherish in relation to our fellow-beings.
The philosophy of solitude has been well discussed
bating an occasional romantic vein with morbid tinges
by Zimmermann, whose work permanently identifies his
name with the subject I had not read that celebrated
treatise until after the completion of my own, and am in-
debted to it for nothing beyond the citations explicitly
made from it in the revision of these pages. Zimmer-
mann's personal experience of solitude, and long brooding
over it, contributed much to the value of his work ; which
is comprehensive in survey, rich in learning, penetrative
in thought, vivid in sentiment, and eloquent in diction.
On the other hand it is too diffuse in style, too expanded
in form. It was translated into the chief languages of
Europe and had a vast sale. The English translation, so
widely scattered half a century ago, comprised only about
a third part of the matter in the four volumes of the
original German, which the author had elaborately rewrit-
ten with great enlargements. Besides the important work
of Zimmermann there are in the literary remains of emi-
nent men among whom Petrarch, Montaigne, Cowper,
and Schopenhauer deserve special mention a multitude
of essays, poems, and letters, on solitude. These I have
carefully searched, and have endeavored to enrich my
own disquisition by appropriately quoting from them their
best things. I have not gathered these numerous quota-
tions in a pedantic spirit, for a show of learning, nor in a
poetic spirit, for mere ornament, but in a didactic spirit.
in the belief that the collection thus made of the solemn
and weighty or beautiful and pathetic expressions of
authoritative minds would be valuable. I cannot help
believing that the best readers, so far from bringing against
me the charge of superfluity in quotation, will be grateful
for the use of these auxiliaries. It stands to reason that
no man can handle a great moral theme from his single
mind so well as he can when aided by the contributions
of the wise men who have handled it before. The form,
divisions, and method of the present work have grown out
of my own meditations. Its development in details has,
of course, been modified as well by the inspiring suggest-
iveness of the writings of others on the same subject, as
by the transplantation into it, with due credit, of many
of the most nutritious thoughts and sanative sentiments
met with in them.
Contempt and scorn, unless directed by nobler emotions,
are as pernicious as they are easy and vulgar. Pure
forms of reverence and aspiration are more rarely felt as
facts of experience, and are more difficult of attainment
as attributes of character. But it is better to lift the eye
than to curl the lip. The aphorism of Lavater is good :
Trust him little who smilingly praises all alike, him less
who sneeringly censures all alike, him least who is coldly
indifferent to all alike. Did I not believe this book
adapted to develop both a healthy dislike for what is bad
in men, and a becoming admiration and love for what is
good in them, I would fling it into the fire instead of
committing it to the press. Is there anything else so
odious as the passions of hatred and envy ? What else
is so desirable as the qualities of devoutness, wisdom,
magnanimity, and peace ? Unless the author is ignorant
of his own heart he has written the following pages with
the warmest pity for the victims of the ignoble traits of
human life, and with a fervent desire to remove the causes
of their sufferings. Unless he is deceived he has also
been actuated by a religious veneration for great and good
men, the heroic masters in virtue, and by a purpose to
exalt them before the multitude as ideals which shall
exert an influence to mould to their likeness those who
earnestly contemplate them. Great men heighten the
consciousness of the human race ; and it is our grateful
duty to magnify him whose genius magnifies mankind.
The roll of persons admiringly treated of in the following
leaves composes a list of names fit to be kept in the cas-
ket of a king.
The majority of men in every age are superficial in
character and brittle in purpose, and lead undedicated
lives ; swarming together in buzzing crowds in all haunts
of amusement or places of low competition, caring little
for anything but gossip and pastime, the titillation of the
senses, and the gratification of conceit. To state the
conditions and illustrate the attractions of a holier and
grander happiness, to hold up the examples of nobler
characters and lives, lifted into something of loneliness
by their gifts and achievements, is, accordingly, always
a timely service. All better lives are so much redeeming
leaven kneaded into the lump of humanity.
There are many disappointed and discontented men
and women, exasperated with society, uneasy with seclu-
sion, galled by the bonds of the world when they feel its
multitudinous emulation, unable to enjoy freedom and
repose when they retreat into solitude. Sometimes this
state is a consequence of poor health. Then the patient
has more need of the physician than of the divine, the
first desideratum being the restoration of the nervous
system to its normal tone. Generally, however, there is
equal occasion for moral counsel and medicinal direction.
But when this experience is more purely a moral result,
it is, in most cases, the product of a too magnified opin-
ion of self combined with a too acute feeling of that
opinion. Exactingness is the bane, renunciation the
antidote. Self-respect may be the sternest wisdom, but
self-idolatry is infatuation. This is one of the many
questions which must be analyzed in any adequate pre-
sentation of the causes of human loneliness.
The author now dismisses his book of solitude, to find
its way and do its work among men, in the hope that it
may render many an unhappy heart that service of sym-
pathetic guidance which he feels such a work would, at
an earlier day, have rendered himself.
CO N TE N TS.
THE SOLITUDES OF NATURE.
INTRODUCTION. GREGARIOUSNESS AND SOLITARINESS . . 19
1. THE SOLITUDE OF THE DESERT 21
2. THE SOLITUDE OF THE PRAIRIE 21
3. THE SOLITUDE OF THE OCEAN 21
4. THE SOLITUDE OF THE POLE 22
5. THE SOLITUDE OF THE FOREST 23
6. THE SOLITUDE OF THE MOUNTAIN 24
7. THE SOLITUDE OF THE RUIN 25
THE SOLITUDES OF MAN.
INTRODUCTION. PHYSICAL SOLITUDE AND SPIRITUAL LONE-
LINESS . . . . 31
1. THE SOLITUDE OF INDIVIDUALITY ..... 34
2. THE SOLITUDE OF GRIEF 40
3. THE SOLITUDE OF LOVE 47
4. THE SOLITUDE OF OCCUPATION 55
5. THE SOLITUDE OF SELFISHNESS 59
6. THE SOLITUDE OF GENIUS 65
7. THE SOLITUDE OF DEATH 82
THE MORALS OF SOLITUDE.
i THE DANGERS OF SOLITUDE 91
2. THE USES OF SOLITUDE ....... 140
CONCLUSION .... 178
SKETCHES OF LONELY CHARACTERS:
OR, PERSONAL ILLUSTRATIONS OF THE GOOD AND EVIL OF
GOTAMA BUDDHA *. 185
ROUSSEAU . 255
WORDSWORTH . 277
BLANCO WHITE 304
CHOPIN . 324
MAURICE DE GUERIN 338
EUGENIE DE GUJRIN ....*. . 365
COMTE . . 372
JESUS . -377
SUMMARY OF THE SUBJECT . . 198
THE SOLITUDES OF NATURE,
THE SOLITUDES OF NATURE.
Gregariousness and Solitariness.
AT the first glance every form of being appears to be
social, all the world gregarious. The trees interlace their
branches and wave their tops in multitudinous union ;
from the equator to the poles the waves shoulder their
fellows, glistening with innumerable smiles ; whole or-
chards of apple-blossoms blush in correspondence ; in
regiments the ranks of corn laugh on the slopes ; ponds
of lilies uncover their bosoms to the moon ; meadows of
grass-blades bend before the breeze ; and the barley rus-
tles millions of beards together on the lea. Shoals of
herring solidify acres of the sea with moving life. Infini-
tudes of phosphorescent organisms, covering the surface
of the deep, turn its heaving field of darkness into a sheet
of fire. There are ant-hills, animated cities whose inhab-
itants outnumber Jeddo and Pekin. Villages of beavers
build in company. Shaggy hosts of bisons shake the
globe with the dull thunder of their tread. Herds of
antelopes are seen crowding the entire horizon with their
graceful forms. The naturalist in the tropics sometimes
beholds clouds of gorgeous butterflies, miles in width, fly-
ing past him overhead all day. Captain Flinders saw, on
the coast of Van Diemen's Land, a flight of sooty petrels,
in a stream, which, as he calculated, contained a hundred
millions. Audubon, while crossing the Kentuaky Bar-
rens, in eighteen hundred and thirteen, journeyed for
three days beneath a flock of passenger-pigeons, which,
according to his careful estimate, formed an oblong
square a mile in breadth and a hundred and eighty miles
2O THE SOLITUDES OF NATURE.
in length, and included more than a billion of birds.
Moving firmaments of locusts hide the heaven and
darken the earth. And what mathematics will compute
the sum of the insects that toil in the erection of a coral
Everywhere, then, we see nature collecting her products,
sands on the shore, leaves in the wood, fields of flowers,
aggregations of mountains, firmaments of stars, swarms
of insects, flocks of birds, herds of beasts, crowds of
persons. Life would thus seem to be attractive, the ene-
my of isolation, huddling its subjects into social close-
ness, from heaps of mites to tribes of men. But, after
all, these phenomena are exceptional, and the inferences
delusive. There is more loneliness in life than there is
communion. The solitudes of the world out-measure its
societies. If consciousness sometimes draws, it has its
pole of repulsion as well ; and much of that which looks
like fellowship is really but an amassment of separations.
What sociality is there in compact leagues of animalculae ?
Each one, shut in his incommunicative cell, might as well
have the solar system to himself. The higher we look
on the scale of strength and individuality, the more isola-
ted we see that the nature and habits of creatures are.
The eagle chooses his eyrie in the bleakest solitude ;' the
condor affects the deserted empyrean ; the leopard prowls
through the jungle by himself; the lion has a lonely lair.
So with men. While savages, like the Hottentots, gibber
in their kraals, and, among civilized nations, the dissi-
pated and the frivolous collect in clubs and assemblies,
dreading to be left in seclusion, the poet loves his soli-
tary walk, the saint retreats to be closeted with God, and
the philosopher wraps himself in immensity.
Preparatory to fixing attention on the various forms of
the loneliness of human life, a contemplation of some
of the gigantic solitudes of nature may envelop the soul
in a befitting atmosphere of sentiment
THE SOLITUDE OF THE OCEAN. 21
The Solitude of the Desert.
As we advance into the solitude of the desert, not an
animal, not an insect, breaks the perfect silence ; not a
tree or a shrub varies the interminable monotony of
sand. Over the arid and level floor you may sweep the
circumference of vision with a glass, and not behold a
moving speck. Only when, here and there, a bleached
skeleton peers out of the drift, Solitude seems to find a
speechless voice in death, and mutely to proclaim its
sway. At noon, in the glaring furnace, the eye faints to
see the air incessantly quiver with heat ; and night, when
it comes, broods, chill and still, under the low-arched sky,
sparkling with magnified stars.
The Solitude of the Prairie.
THE solitude of the prairie is wonderful. Day after
day, from morning till evening, the traveller journeys for-
ward, wearing the horizon as a girdle, without seeming
to change his spot ; for the immense circuit of which he
is the centre appears to move with him. An ocean of
grass around, an immitigable gulf of azure above, he
feels as if he stood on the top of the world, the circular,
sharp-cut level of an inverted cone, upon which the
bulging dome of heaven shuts down in accurate adjust-
ment. He looks around the unvarying wilderness of
verdure, and it seems as if the whole universe were that,
and there were nothing beside.
The Solitude of the Ocean.
THOUGH civilized man has grown more familiar with
the ocean, it is none the less a solitude. How melan-
choly is its ceaseless wash, how lonely its perpetual
swing, without a comrade in its convulsion or its calm 1
How, beneath the immense stoop of naked sky, within
the blue walls of air, in illimitable fluctuation, it stretches
22 THE SOLITUDES OF NATURE.
away from the stagnation of the weedy gulf, in one direc-
tion, to where winter locks its moaning billows in silence
to the polar cliffs ; in the other direction, to where its
cataracts of surf crash on the Indian coast. Everywhere,
out of sight of land, its spirit and expression are solitary,
awful, scornfully exclusive of sympathy. Perched alone
on the mast-head, gazing on the unbroken horizon, how
inexpressibly little a man feels himself to be ! Whether
he contemplates the unity of the ship, frail speck on the
fearful abyss, the unity of the overarching heaven, the
unity of weltering desolation around, or the unity of
mystery enveloping all, it awakens an appalling sense of
The Solitude of the Pole.
THE most dense and dreary of physical solitudes is
that of the polar realm. Now, with the cracking in splits
of the frozen fields, the falling of ice-cliffs, the grinding
of floes, the shrieks of the gale, one would imagine
heaven and earth were going to pieces in the uproar.
Again, the elemental strife at rest, the mariner treads his
deck, or wanders inland, where the total life of the globe
appears suspended, and a silence, oppressive as if Nature
held her breath, prevails. Occasionally a single walrus
crawls out in the cold : gleaming sunlight, and vainly looks
around the horizon for a living fellow ; the dwindled fir-
mament, full of large, lustrous stars, circles, swift and
noiseless, and everywhere is one unrelieved expanse of
ice and snow. Sometimes the voyager meets a flock of
floating mountains journeying southwards, huge masses
of deathly whiteness, slow, silent, solemn as messengers
from a dead world. At another time the Aurora Borealis
suffuses the spectral world of ice ; and fantastic villages,
battlements, cloisters, pinnacles and spires, with unimagin-
able colors, make it look like a gorgeous collection of
oriental cities. But always are found belonging there a
remoteness, a strangeness, a terror, essentially solitary.
THE SOLITUDE OF THE FOREST. 23
The Solitude of the Forest.
THERE are striking peculiarities about the solitude of
the forest These solitudes are very numerous. Vast
woods of magnolias and rhododendrons, on the untrav-
ersed flanks of the Himalayan range, outspread an im-
measurable wilderness of blossoms, and conceal in their
fragrant solitude the mysteries of immemorial ages of
nature. The great reaches of pine and fir on the Apen-
nine and Alpine sides, of Norway spruce and Russian
larch occupying the uncleared north of Europe, their
billowy tops rolling in the summer breeze, their branches
whistling to the icy blast, hide the unprofaned retreats of
the primeval world, in whose ancient gloom man is as
much alone as though transported to another planet.
Maurice de Gue'rin describes a scene of awful loneliness
he witnessed in a French wood. " A tremendous north
wind roars over the forest and makes it give forth deep
groans. The trees bow under the furious blows of the
gale. We see through the branches the clouds which fly
swiftly in black and strange masses, seeming to skim the
summits of the trees. This vast, dark, swimming veil
occasionally lets a ray of the sun dart through a rent into
the bosom of the forest. These sudden flashes of light
give to the appalling depths in the shadow something
haggard and strange, like a smile on the lips of a corpse."
Enormous tropical forests in Africa, superb with pomp
of palms and baobabs, of rosewood, ebony, teak, tama-
rinds and acacias, brilliant with oriental exuberance of
colored flower, fruit and vine, have never echoed stroke
of axe, step or voice of humanity, in their recesses. The
aboriginal woods of western North America seem as if
they might harbor a million anchorites, not one of whom
should be within a day's journey of any other. The trav-
eller who pauses in the gigantic cedar-groves of Mari
posa, penetrated by the spirit of unspeakable seclusion
and rest that reigns there, feels as if he had reached the
heart of solitude, where the genius of antiquity is en-
throned on a couch of gray repose.
4 THE SOLITUDES OF NATURE.
But all other forests are trifling, every other solitude on
earth, except that of the sea, is small when compared
with the tract of colossal vegetation which covers the
South American basin between the Orinoco and the Ama-
zon. In one part of this green wilderness a circle may
be drawn, eleven hundred miles in diameter, the whole
area of which is virgin forest, presenting impenetrable
masses of interwoven climbers and flowery festoons, im-
penetrable walls of huge trunks in actual contact,
showing what stupendous room, yet unimproved, God has
made for the multiplication of men and their homes ;
showing that Malthus and his theory were born in undue
time. At night, when the beasts of prey are abroad, the
noise is as though hell were holding carnival there. But
at noon, the sultry stillness, almost palpable, is broken
only when some hoary giant, undermined by age, crashes
in columnar death. The grandeur and solemnity of this
verdant temple fill the mind with awe. The gloom and
loneliness are so depressing that it is a relief to emerge
from under the sombre roof, once more to see the blue
sky, once more to feel the clear sunshine.
The Solitude of the Mountain.
A far different solitude is found on the summits of
mountains, in the upper veins of air. We leave the warm
valley below, with its snugly shielded villages and the
busy stir of labor and merriment. Over many a weary
height we climb, at each stage of ascent leaving more of
the domestic world behind. Few hearts or eyes follow
our progress. As our diminishing forms are traced from
beneath gradually ascending, we find everything stunted
and bleak ; we pass the line of perpetual snow ; we
reach the zone of shrubless desolation, where not a leaf
nor a bird is to be seen : the shepherds and their flocks
have disappeared in the dim deeps, and a little cloud is
our only comrade, as, still mounting, we finally pause on
the summit and gaze. The world lies unfurled below ;
its forests, patches of carpeting ; its rivers, silver threads ,
THE SOLITUDE OF THE RUIN. 25
its inhabitants, annihilated ; its noise inaudible. We are
alone on the top. Mists, dismal and heavy with loads of
darkness and hail, drift by. The moon, rapidly hidden
and shown by the clouds, hangs in the empty air and
glares at us on a level with our eyes. Uplifted thus
amidst the uncompanionable concave, a crushing sense
of loneliness, of orphanage and want, possesses the soul,
and makes it sigh for a humbler station, hedged with the
works of society, warm with the embrace of love, bright-
ened by the smiles of friends.
The Solitude of the Ruin.
FINALLY we come to the solitude of ruins, relics of
the past, the dolorous dials Time in his passage has raised
to count his triumphs and measure his progress by. A
ruin is forlorn and pathetic wherever seen, in an isle of
African Nilus, or in a forest of American Yucatan. The
traveller falls into a pensive mood, as, leaning against the
stony masses of Meroe, whose glory the barbarian over-
threw and the sands buried, he scans the fading marks
of the life that once flourished on that now silent plain.
The same experience comes over him when his steed
wearily penetrates the rank grass among the mounds of
Copan and Palenque, the riddle of whose forgotten civ-
ilization baffles every guesser who inspects its remains,
where the luxuriant vegetation has overgrown tombs and
temples, here and there a palm, in its resistless upshoot,
cleaving altar and image, column and skull. The Sphinx,
that strange emblematic creature, half beast, half human-
ity, sixty-two feet in height, a hundred and forty feet long,
still tarries amidst the mute desolation whence the whole
race and civilization that set it there have vanished. Be-