« PreviousContinue »
galaxy of the world's poets. Here their triumph will rest chiefly on the measure in which they have expressed imperishable sentiments by a masterful poetic genius.
But we are told to-day, and sometimes by persons who appear to represent a considerable part of the scientific thinking of the day, that sentiment itself is out of date and is to be relegated to the background of modern activities. So let me say a few words on this modern attempt to cast prejudice on sentiment in general. Sentiment is often derided as sentimentalism, the design being to cast back upon the parent-word the discredit that attaches to its verbal offspring. But the fact that a new word was coined to express that vicious extreme to which sentiment may run when unbalanced by other mental qualities proves rather the soundness of the original word and of that function of human nature for which it stands. We want to repress, of course, sentimentalism, and we want so to check and balance sentiment that it shall not fall into sentimentalism; but do we want to repress the faculty or function of sentiment itself? The faculty of reason does not always use sound logic, and sometimes falls into woful mistakes. Shall we therefore suppress it? Even conscience has gone astray, and committed terrible crimes. Shall we therefore discard it in the guidance of life? Nature has created in the human mind a variety of faculties, each fitted for a special function or service; and it seems probable that the
great intent of nature concerning man, and of the Power behind nature, will be best fulfilled by a well-balanced development and use of all these faculties. Hitherto, the history of the world, from the very beginnings of history, proves that sentiment has played a most important part in the acts of nations and men. It has been the mainspring of some of the mightiest institutions and movements. Even we of this country are but a little more than thirty years away from one of the most magnificent demonstrations of sentiment on a continental scale that the world has ever seen,— the popular, Pentecostal uprising of the North against the slaveholders' rebellion, when the national flag was shot down. In the white heat of patriotic enthusiasm the iron barriers between churches and between political parties were melted away, and the North leaped as one man against that final outrage of the slave power. Sentiment needs the vigorous regulation, on the right hand and on the left, which is offered by reason and the lessons of experience; but it is itself the central impulse in a large domain of human action. It is the founder of the family and the home. It is the chief sustainer of moral law. It has been a founder and supporter of states as well as religions.
When, therefore, I hear of schemes for the suppression of sentiment in human life, I think that a task is undertaken a great deal larger than is dreamed of, nothing less, in fact, than a revolution against human nature. I know what mighty
power is possessed by moral agitators and reformers. They do sometimes revolutionize society and its institutions. But such reformers have a powerful sentiment in their philanthropy to spur them on. These new apostles to society, whose cry is, "Death to Sentiment," cut the very nerve of reform effort in the proclamation of their principle. They are not re-formers, but, mal-formers. Their act, if they could accomplish it, would be a species of self-mutilation. Nature, therefore, may be trusted, by the pressure of all her vital and progressive forces, to resist it as a crime.
I doubt not that a scientific study of the great social problems the problems of poverty, vice, and criminal degradation — will render most valuable aid toward their solution. I doubt not that in some respects a genuine social science is going to transform all our old methods, particularly in making the chief aim to be prevention of misery, instead of letting the misery come and then sending charity necessarily then for very pity's sake -to misery's relief. But, if any think that these new scientific methods are to vacate the offices of the sentiment of benevolence in the solution of these grave problems, they most profoundly err. The plea of those critics to whom I have here referred is, Let not sentiment interfere to prop up the feeble-bodied and the feeble-minded against the operation of nature's stern law of struggle, with survival of the fittest. But by the natural law of evolution itself civilization and humanity
have advanced far beyond this sheer animal stage of physical struggle for physical existence. The ethical and humane sympathies which do interfere with that old law of physical struggle and survival are among the most eminent signs of the high altitude to which human life has risen above savage and brute conditions of existence. On the human plane the survival of the fittest is thus made to mean the survival of the best. In fact, the new scientific methods of philanthropy will require larger and more constant services from personal sympathy and benevolent devotion than the old; and the best benefit of all methods of dealing with vice and misery must always come, not from the method itself, but from the personal sentiment of genuine neighborly love and helpfulness which the men and women who wield the method are able to
put into it. As to that fastidious frowning on sentiment and on every kind of enthusiasm which appears in certain quarters of the fashionable world, it deserves scarcely any further criticism than that of silent contempt. With the suppression of sentiment, the faculty of thought in these persons seems also to have vanished, and nothing has power henceforth to disturb the decorous inanities of their days. Their characters are too feeble for perpetuation, and we need have no concern lest they shall revolutionize human nature. Nor need we more fear those bolder intellects who venture here and there to assert that the marriage institution should be taken from its ancient foundation in
the sentiment of love, and that the state should select partners in marriage according to scientific principles of adaptation, and that the state, too, should take the children under its tutelage and not leave them to be spoiled by parental fondness. This theory is not wholly new to human history. Ancient Sparta tried it to a very considerable extent in both its branches. The theory produced a nation of soldiers. But they and Sparta went down with the rest of Greece, when that country of ancient genius vanished from history.
We see, therefore, that the great sentiments in general, which have moved human nature through all its past history, are likely to abide. They may be cultivated, improved, but not uprooted; for their roots are vital elements of human nature itself.
If this be true of sentiment in general, it is a fortiori true of the religious sentiment. Religion, as I am accustomed to define it, seeking a definition which shall cover all its specific forms and possible phases, represents man's threefold relation, through thought, feeling, and deed, to the Universal Power and Life. Feeling, or sentiment, is one of the three essential elements of religion, which must always appear when religion has its full symmetry of proportions and its full measure of legitimate power. Sometimes sentiment has held too exclusive sway, producing a religion of emotional ecstasy with the crudest thought and very slight ethical perception. Un