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POWER AND AIM.
power and aim are the two halves of human felicity." There is a profound wisdom in this saying.
Power, without aim, leads nowhere, and tends to nullity. Aim without power does not accomplish what it proposes, and thus falls into discouragement, which is also nullity. Each, by itself, journeys toward nothingness. Together, they accomplish the wonders of time and eternity.
When, however, we speak of any grown-up human beings without an aim, we mean without one which is permanent and adequate. Every one, or nearly every one, has some purpose in view, some end in sight. Except the Neapolitan lazzaroni dozing on the shore of the Bay of Naples, or the dreaming poets, most persons are chasing something all day long, — pleasure, gain, power, distinction. But these purposes are not always blessed ones; they do not make a part of human felicity. They are well enough for a time, but not satisfactory
for a life. In the aim of life there should be something infinite, eternal; something carrying with it a touch of immortality and heaven. This infinite quality, with its bidden charm, belongs to duty, to love, to truth. This is the indivisible trinity to which all of life must tend in order to have any permanent interest or value. To do right because right is true and lovely; to seek truth in order that we may put it into action, and so help others; to be wisely generous, practically sympathetic, — this is the great aim which gives the soul an infinite content.
Some persons, however, have power without aim. Little children begin life so. They put forth inexhaustible energy in all directions. They are not meant to be tied to any one thing. Their supply of activity is so prodigious that they learn by everything they see and touch. They are making experiments all day long. Nature welcomes them into her friendly arms, and opens her wonderful pages for their delight and instruction. How sad to see the little things taken from their play-room and play-ground, where they learn at every moment, and chained to a bench or a book, where they learn next to nothing! On the other hand, it is doubtless inconvenient to have these restless little fingers scattering your work, overturning your furniture, breaking your ornaments, tearing leaves from your books. The golden mean is to be found in that benign discovery of modern thought, the Kindergarten; or, if that is not accessible, then we must make the nursery or primary school as much like a Kindergarten as we can.
Give the children plenty to do in a natural way, and do not try to hold them too soon to a fixed purpose. They are lovely illustrations of power without aim.
But as soon as the children begin to grow up, this is no longer a childlike state, but a childish
More and more of aim and purpose ought to come in, does come in, - outwardly imposed at first, that it may be self-imposed afterward. With children amusement and instruction go naturally together, amusement carrying with it instruction. Not so afterward. The young man or young woman, whose aim is amusement, grows weary. Amusement is not an adequate aim for a grown person. The novels of social life, which represent pretty accurately human affairs, show us men and women of pleasure as excessively weary ; in fact, tired of life almost before they have begun to live. This is because their aim is not adequate to their power. It does not draw out their force ; so they become vapid even to themselves. In this country we have been hitherto saved from this shallow class, which belongs to the wealthy capitals of Europe. It is the habit here for all men, rich and poor, to do some useful work. I hope we shall not soon have among us many of those imitators of foreign manners, who spend their time in dressing, looking out of the windows of club-bouses, getting up an imaginary fox-hunt, or driving, at much expense and with some difficulty, a useless four-in-hand stage-coach.
And yet, even among ourselves, how much wasted power there is, — misdirected power; power spent on inadequate aims, which might accomplish so much in nobler ways !
I am not one of those who think that moneymaking in itself is a bad thing. It is a good thing, for by its means come to society its outward improvements and opportunities. It is the love of money which is the root of evil, not money itself, nor money-making. But
But when the Apostle said, “The love of money is the root of all evil,” I think he hardly exaggerated. To make money in order to use it, as the banker Peabody used his money, as Peter Cooper used his, and as so many other rich men and women have done and are doing, this is not "the love of money,” it is the love of doing good. What large subscriptions and donations are being made every day in Boston for colleges here and in every other State of the Union ; for the Indians in the Territories; the colored people in North Carolina and Georgia; for kindergartens, hospitals, missions, asylums! I happen to know of three or four great subscriptions going on at this moment, side by side, in our city. Those who have money and use it, — who use it for good ends, - are not those who love it. With them, power and aim are properly united.
We read in the newspapers every day the stories of men who, after long years of honest labor, have wrecked their character and brought untold misery to their homes by making haste to be rich. They have speculated with funds not their own, and lost them. Oh! they did not mean to lose; no doubt they meant to gain and to return the borrowed funds, — for they were only borrowed, not stolen. “He only steals," say they, “who takes what he does not mean to return.” This is the new definition which is to replace the old one, "He steals who takes without leave what does not belong to him.” It is not, therefore, rich people only who suffer from the love of money. The poor man who trusts in money, who means to be rich any how and in any way; who leaves his honest business to speculate; who grumbles and is angry because others accumulate faster than he, — this man, without a dollar in his pocket, loves money more than Peter Cooper did with his millions.
“Great powers and low aims” might be written as an epitaph on the tomb of many eminent public men and leading politicians. Their object is to rise, to become more distinguished, get a better place, make themselves popular, talk plausibly on either side of the question, fill their pockets with the people's money. Think of such men, and then of a statesman like Burke, a champion of freedom like Erskine, a patriot like Gambetta, a hero like Garibaldi, a leader like Kossuth. Think of our