« AnteriorContinuar »
I am owner of the sphere,
THERE is one mind common to all individual men. Every man is an inlet to the same and to all of the same. He that is once admitted to the right of reason is made a freeman of the whole estate. What Plato has thought, he may think; what a saint has felt, he may feel; what at any time has befallen any man, he can understand. Who hath access to this universal mind is a party to all that is, or can be, done ; for this is the only and sovereign agent.
Of the works of this mind, history is the record. Its genius is illustrated by the entire series of days. Man is explicable by nothing less than all his history. Without hurry, without rest, the human spirit goes forth from the beginning to embody every faculty, every thought, every emotion, which belongs to it in appropriate events. But always the thought is prior to the fact; all the facts of history pre-exist in the mind as laws. Each law in turn is made by circumstances predominant, and the limits of nature give power to but one at a time. A man is the whole encyclopædia of facts. The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn, and Egypt, Greece, Rome, Gaul, Britain, America, lie folded already in the first man. Epoch after epoch, camp, kingdom, empire, republic, democracy, are merely the application of his manifold spirit to the manifold world.
This human mind wrote history, and this must read it. The Sphinx must solve her own riddle. If the whole of history is in one man, it is all to be explained from individual experience. There is a relation between the hours of our life and the centuries of time. As the air I breathe is drawn from the great repositories
of nature, as the light on my book is yielded by a star a hundred millions of miles distant, as the poise of my body depends on the equilibrium of centrifugal and centripetal forces, so the hours should be instructed by the ages, and the ages explained by the hours. Of the universal mind, each individual man is one more incarnation. All its properties consist in him. Every step in his private experience flashes a light on what great bodies of men have done, and the crises of his life refer to national crises. Every revolution was first a thought in one man's mind, and when the same thought occurs to another man, it is the key to that era. Every reform was once a private opinion, and when it shall be a private opinion again, it will solve the problem of the age. The fact narrated must correspond to something in me to be credible or intelligible. We, as we read, must become Greeks, Romans, Turks, priest and king, martyr and executioner,-must fasten the 9 images to some reality in our secret experience, or we shall ? nothing, learn nothing, keep nothing. What befell Asdrubal : : Cæsar Borgia, is as much an illustration of the mind's powers and depravations as what has befallen us. Each new law and political movement has meaning for you. Stand before each of its tablets and say,
“ Here is one of my coverings. Under this fantastic, or odious, or graceful mask, did my Proteus nature hide itself.” This remedies the defect of our too great nearness to ourselves. This throws our own actions into perspective: and as crabs, goats, scorpions, the balance and the waterpot, lose all their meanness when hung as signs in the zodiac, so I can see my own vices without heat in the distant persons of Solomon, Alcibiades, and Catiline.
It is this universal nature which gives worth to particular men and things. Human life as containing this is mysterious and inviolable, and we hedge it round with penalties and laws. All laws derive hence their ultimate reason, all express at last reverence for some command of this supreme illimitable essence. Property also holds of the soul, covers great spiritual facts, and instinctively we at first hold to it with swords and laws, and wide and complex combinations. The obscure consciousness of this fact is the light of all our day,—the claim of claims,—the plea for education, for justice, for charity,—the foundation of friendship and love, and of the heroism and grandeur which belongs to acts of self-reliance, It is remarkable that involuntarily we always read as superior beings. Universal history, the poets, the romancers, do not in
their stateliest pictures,—in the sacerdotal, the imperial palaces, in the triumphs of will, or of genius, anywhere lose our ear, anywhere make us feel that we intrude, that this is for our betters; but rather is it true that, in their grandest strokes, there we feel most at home. All that Shakspeare says of the king, yonder slip of a boy that reads in the corner feels to be true of himself. We sympathise in the great moments of history, in the great discoveries, the great resistances, the great prosperities of men ; because there law was enacted, the sea was searched, the land was found, or the blow was struck for us, as we ourselves in that place would have done or applauded.
So is it in respect to condition and character. We honour the rich because they have externally the freedom, power, and grace, which we feel to be proper to man, proper to us.
So all that is said of the wise man by stoic, or oriental, or modern essayist, describes to each man his own idea, describes his unattained but attainable self. All literature writes the character of the wise
All books, monuments, pictures, conversation, are portraits in which the wise man finds the lineaments he is forming. The silent and the loud praise him, and accost him, and he is stimulated wherever he moves as by personal allusions. A wise and good soul, therefore, never needs look for allusions personal or laudatory in discourse. He hears the commendation, not of himself, but more sweet, of that character he seeks, in every word that is said concerning character; yea, further, in every fact that befalls—in the running river, and the rustling corn. Praise is looked, homage tendered, love flows from mute nature, from the mountains and the lights of the firmament.
These hints, dropped as it were from sleep and night, let us use in broad day. The student is to read history actively and not passively; to esteem his own life the text, and books the commentary. Thus compelled, the muse of history will utter oracles, as never to those who do not respect themselves. I have no expectation that any man will read history aright, who thinks that what was done in a remote age, by men whose names have resounded far, has any deeper sense than what he is doing to-day.
The world exists for the education of each man. There is no age, or state of society, or mode of action in history, to which there is not somewhat corresponding in his life. Everything tends in a most wonderful manner to abbreviate itself and yield its whole virtue to him. He should see that he can live all history in his own
person. He must sit at home with might and main, and not suffer himself to be bullied by kings or empires, but know that he is greater than all the geography and all the government of the
he must transfer the point of view from which history is commonly read, from Rome and Athens and London to himself, and not deny his convictions that he is the Court, and if England or Egypt have anything to say to him, he will try the case; if not, let them for ever be silent. He must attain and maintain that lofty sight where facts yield their secret sense, and poetry and annals are alike. The instinct of the mind, the purpose of nature, betrays itself in the use we make of the signal narrations of history. Time dissipates to shining ether the solid angularity of facts. No anchor, no cable, no fences, avail to keep a fact a fact. Babylon, and Troy, and Tyre, and even early Rome, are passing already into fiction. The Garden of Eden, the sun standing still in Gibeon, is poetry, thenceforward to all nations. Who cares what the fact was, when we have thus made a constellation of it to hang in heaven an immortal sign ? London, and Paris, and New York, must go the same way. “What is History,” said Napoleon, “but a fable agreed upon ?” This life of ours is stuck round with Egypt, Greece, Gaul, England, War, Colonisation, Church, Court and Commerce, as with so many flowers and wild ornaments grave and gay. I will not make more account of them. I believe in Eternity. I can find Greece, Palestine, Italy, Spain, and the Islands,—the genius and creative principle of each and of all eras in my own mind.
We are always coming up with the facts that have moved us in history in our private experience, and verifying them here. All history becomes subjective; in other words, there is properly no History; only Biography. Every soul must know the whole lesson for itself—must go over the whole ground. What it does not see, what it does not live, it will not know. What the former age has epitomised into a formula or rule for manipular convenience, it will lose all the good of verifying for itself, by means of the wall of that rule. Somewhere or other, some time or other, it will demand and find compensation for that loss by doing the work itself. Ferguson discovered many things in astronomy which had long been known. The better for him.
History must be this or it is nothing. Every law which the state enacts, indicates a fact in human nature; that is all. We must in our own nature see the necessary reason for every fact,
see how it could and must be. So stand before every public, every private work; before an oration of Burke, before a victory of Napoleon, before a martyrdom of Sir Thomas More, of Sidney, of Marmaduke Robinson, before a French Reign of Terror, and a Salem hanging of witches, before a fanatic Revival, and the Animal Magnetism in Paris, or in Providence. We assume that we, under like influence, should be like affected, and should achieve the
and we aim to master intellectually the steps, and reach the same height or the same degradation that our fellow, our proxy has done.
All inquiry into antiquity,—all curiosity respecting the pyramids, the excavated cities, Stonehenge, the Ohio Circles, Mexico, Memphis, is the desire to do away this wild, savage, and preposterous There or Then, and introduce in its place the Here and the Now. It is to banish the Not me, and supply the Me. It is to abolish difference and restore unity. Belzoni digs and measures in the mummy-pits and pyramids of Thebes, until he can see the end of the difference between the monstrous work and himself. When he has satisfied himself, in general and in detail, that it was made by such a person as himself, so armed and so motived, and to ends to which he himself in given circumstances should also have worked, the problem is then solved ; his thought lives along the whole line of temples and sphinxes and catacombs, passes through them all like a creative soul, with satisfaction, and they live again to the mind, or are now.
A Gothic cathedral affirms that it was done by us, and not done by us. Surely it was by man, but we find it not in our man.
But we apply ourselves to the history of its production. We put ourselves into the place and historical state of the builder. We remember the forest dwellers, the first temples, the adherence to the first type, and the decoration of it is the wealth of the nation increased; the value which is given to wood by carving led to the carving over the whole mountain of stone of a cathedral. When we have gone through this process, and added thereto the Catholic Church, its cross, its music, its processions, its saints' days and image worship, we have, as it were, been the man that made the minister; we have seen how it could and must be. We have the sufficient reason.
The difference between men is in their principle of association. Some men classify objects by colour and size and other accidents of appearance; others by intrinsic likeness, or by the relation of