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THE ARMY OF THE RESERVE.
ADDRESS BEFORE THE PHI BETA KAPPA SOCIETY OF BOWDOIN
COLLEGE, AUGUST 7, 1862.
Mr. PRESIDENT AND GENTLEMEN, Human culture in some one of its aspects is the appropriate theme of the occasion. In selecting the speaker from the field of active and busy life, you did not require nor look for an elaborate discussion of its philosophy. The fair question put to us, wrestlers on the dusty arena, is this : Looking at the subject from your stand-point, have you any practical suggestions to make that may aid us in this noblest of works, — the building-up not only of the living battlements of the State, but of the beings that we are, and are to be?
One of the most important matters in modern warfare is the composition of the army of the reserve. It is relied upon to supply fresh forces at the instant of need, to support points that are shaken, to be ready to act at decisive moments. It should be composed of select troops, well appointed, thoroughly trained, under the eye of a cool, sagacious, and resolute commander. The need of such reserved force has been painfully illustrated in this war for national life. In the most important junctures, we have failed to win victory or secure its fruits from the lack of an army in reserve.
No better example of such a reserve can be found than the Imperial Guard of Napoléon, nor of its use than on the field of Austerlitz.
Our life is a campaign and a warfare. It has its decisive moments, whose issues for good or evil, for victory or defeat, must depend on our reserved power. On the field of letters, on the broader field of human life, he only organizes victory, and commands success, behind whose van and corps of battle is heard the steady tramp of the army of the reserve.
To some illustrations of this thought I give the hour your kindness has assigned to me.
It is a stern lesson, and hard to be learned, that though the ordinary duties of life require large power, intellectual and moral, the supply must constantly exceed the immediate demand. It is a hard lesson, but a necessary
Life is not all routine. It has its great temptations, its golden opportunities. To withstand the one, to seize the other, we must organize and maintain our spiritual army of the reserve. There is no hope of large achievement, or of safety even, in impressing forces or foraging for supplies on the line of march, much less on the eve of battle. In youth for manhood, in summer for winter, in sunshine for storm, in peace for war, in the actual for the possible, the law of Providence and foresight is universal.
The rules for the composition of the spiritual reserve are simple, whatever of difficulty there may be in their just application. Faculties trained by patient, thorough, protracted discipline; supplies carefully garnered, and
then so thoroughly digested that they will enter into the bone and muscle of the mind, and become power; this was what Lord Bacon meant by saying knowledge was power.
The nucleus is to be formed before the campaign of active life opens; after that, growing rigor of discipline and daily accessions of strength.
The magnitude and extent of the reserve are to be measured, not by the wants of to-day or of the next campaign, but by the possible exigencies of human life, life whose horizon is ever lifting up, whose possibilities of to-day are the necessities of to-morrow.
And though there must be limitation, and exclusion even, no more forces than can be well kept up and maintained, no half-grown conscripts, none maimed or blind, diseased or leprous, yet the recruiting-office is never closed; for the campaign is never ended.
We have thrift and providence; but they take a material direction. We save for the dark and rainy day; but we save money and houses and lands. Intellectually, we live from hand to mouth. We begin the life of action before the life of study. The result is, that, with most of us, the life of patient study and quiet thought never begins. “Quid enim aut didicimus aut scire potuimus qui ante ad agendum quam ad cognescendum venimus.”
Getting knowledge for immediate use, cramming for the occasion, we limit ourselves to the narrowest range of the useful and practical: meaning, by useful, value in the shambles of the market; and by practical, dexterity in the use of tools, without any perception of the principles which underlie them. We find, often too late except as a warning to others, that there is nothing in this world half so practical or half so economical as accurate knowledge, patient labor, thorough discipline, the careful composition, the constant training, of the army of the
And first we may remark, that this reserved power is necessary to the thorough possession of ourselves. It is true, abstractly, that a man owns himself, his powers and faculties; but, in ninety-nine cases in an hundred, he never comes into the quiet enjoyment of his estate. With some opportunities for observing men in intellectual conflict, I venture to say there is no respect in which the difference is so marked as in the extent to which they possess themselves, their own powers and resources. We hear much of self-culture and self-development; and it is well. All true culture is self-culture; all true development is self-development. We hear far less than we ought of the thorough possession of a man's self; of spiritual forces so orderly disposed, so loyal, so trained to prompt obedience and action, that they will rally, and form into line for service, at the first tap of the drum.
There are men, with all the learning of the schools, whose learning is but a clog and hinderance: their learning masters them, not they their learning ; creating such a pressure on the brain, that it has no free, natural play and motion; ever coming in at the wrong time, or coming in too late ; like the baggage of an eastern army, the great impediment to the march; or rather like the undisciplined hordes of nations that followed Xerxes from Asia to the plains of Doriscus, and from Doriscus to Thermopylæ. Better, infinitely better, one well-trained Spartan band.
Necessary to this self-possession are calmness, the calmness which springs only from the consciousness of strength in reserve, of measured strength, of power to strike the needed blow at the decisive moment; the orderly disposition of our forces, a place for every thing, and every thing in its place; the military eye which surveys the whole field of action, sees where the fight will be thickest and hardest, and the forces needed; and, rarest of powers, the power to refrain, to withhold your fire; to sit still when there is no occasion to be on your feet ; the power and gift of silence, the power to say nothing when you have nothing to say, or nothing that had not better be unsaid ; the power of masterly inactivity, the effective grace of repose.
Instead of schools to teach us how to talk, we want schools to teach us how to be silent; sanitary clubs and commissions, whose end and aim shall be to prevent the spread of this insanabile cacoethes loquendi.
In this power of self-mastery is wrapped the faculty and grace and liberty of obedience ; the power to recognize the presence of law, and to bend to it; to mark its bounds, and keep within them. Qui nescit ignorare ignorat scire.” The rebellious is never the truly wise spirit. It is for ever breaking and bruising itself against the walls of its fancied prison-house. Into the obedient, ever open, and receptive spirit, wisdom loves to come and take up her abode.
He only well commands who knows to serve well, to obey promptly, gracefully, with thorough loyalty of mind