« PreviousContinue »
ciples, and the severer maxims of government. The confederate republics of Crete and the daughter republic of Sparta were no other than studied and rigorous systems of direct personal discipline upon the people, in which wealth and ease were in nowise sought, but sternly rejected. And in what monarchy, or even despotism, of the world, where but in plain republican Rome, the country of Cato and Brutus, is a censor of manners and morals to be endured, going forth with his note-book, and for any breach of parental or filial duty observed, for seduction of the youth, for dishonor in the field, for a drinking bout, or even for luxurious manners, inflicting a civil degradation upon the highest citizens and magistrates? The beginnings, too, of our own history are of the same stern temperament, and such as perfectly to sympathize with the highest principles of government. Indeed I have felt it to be, in the highest degree, auspicious, that the ground I vindicate before you requires no revolution, being itself the true American ground. May we not also discover even now, in the worst forms of radicalism and political depravation among us, a secret elemental force, a law of republican feeling, which, if appealed to on high and rigid principles, would yield a true response? We fail in our conservative attempts, more because our principles are too low than because they are too high. A course of administration, based on the pursuit of wealth alone, though bad in principle anywhere, is especially bad in a republic. It is more congenial to the splendors and stately distinctions of monarchy. It concentrates the whole attention of the nation upon wealth. It requires measures to be debated only as they bear upon wealth. It produces thus a more egregious notion of its dignity, continually, both in the minds of those who have it and of those who have it not, and thus it exasperates every bad feeling in a republic, till it retaliates destruction upon it. But a system of policy, based on the high and impartial principles of philosophy, one that respects only manly bodies, high talents, great sentiments and actions, one that values excellence of person, whether found in the palaces of the rich or the huts of the poor, holding all gilded idleness and softness in the contempt they deserve—such a system is congenial to a republic. It would have attractions to our people. Its philosophic grounds, too, can be vindicated by a great variety of bold arguments, and the moral absurdity of holding wealth in higher estimation than personal value can be played out in the forms of wit and satire, so as to raise a voice of acclamation and overwhelm the mercenary system with utter and final contempt.
I ought to say that no constitutional change in our system is requisite or contemplated. It is only necessary that we sustain the distinctness. and high independence of the state governments. The general government is mainly fiscal and prudential in its sphere of action. The highest
and most sacred duties belong to the individual states. It is the exact and appropriate sphere of these to prepare personal wealth in the people. They should be as little absorbed, therefore, as possible, in the spirit and policy of the general government. Each state should have the interest, in itself, of a family, a sense of character to sustain, a love of its ances tors and its children, a just ambition to raise its quota of distinguished men, to be honored for its literature, its good manners, and the philosophic beauty of its disciplinary institutions.
But let us glance at some of the practical operations of our doctrine more particularly. The personal value of the people being the great object of pursuit, the first care of a state will of course be to preserve and ennoble the native quality or stock of its people. It is a well-known principle of physiology that cultivation, bodily and mental, and all refinements of disposition and principle, do gradually work to increase the native volume and elevate the quality of a people. It is by force of this principle, long operating, that states occupying a similar climate have become so different in temperament, talent, and quality of every kind. In this principle, a field of promise truly sublime opens on the statesmen of a country. And yet, I know not that more than two or three law-givers ever made the ennobling of their stock a subject of prac tical attention. The free mingling and crossing of races in the higher ranges of culture and character would doubtless be a great benefit to the stock. But the constant importation, as now, to this country, of the lowest orders of people from abroad, to dilute the quality of our natural manhood, is a sad and beggarly prostitution of the noblest gift ever conferred on a people. Who shall respect a people who do not respect their own blood? And how shall a national spirit, or any determinate and proportionate character, arise out of so many low-bred associations and coarse-grained temperaments, imported from every clime? It was in keeping, that Pan, who was the son of everybody, was the ugliest of the gods. It is well known, too, that vices and degraded manners have a sad effect in sinking the quality of a people. We hear of one whole people who are in danger of dwindling to absolute extinction by force of this simple cause. And let the day but come to any people when it is true that every man participates in the infected blood of drunkenness, or any corrupt vice, and it will be a people as certainly degenerate, to some degree, in bodily stature and force, in mental quickness and generosity. Do I then speak of enforcing morals by law? Certainly I do. Only a decent respect for the blood of the nation requires it. But the punishments declared against such vices as poison the blood of a nation ought to be suitable; they ought to be such as denote only contempt. If it would be too severe, in the manner of an ancient Roman punishment, to inclose the delinquent in a sack, with some appropriate animals,
and throw him into the water, let him somehow be made a mark for mockery and derision. But let there be no appearance of austerity in the laws against vice. Let cheerful and happy amusements be provided, at the public expense. Let the youth be exercised in feats of agility and grace, in rowing and the spirited art of horsemanship. Erect monuments and fountains, adorn public walks and squares, arrange ornamental and scientific gardens, institute festivals and games for the contest of youth and manhood in practical invention, in poetry, philosophy, and bodily prowess. Provide ways and means, go to any expense, to enliven the state and make the people happy, without low and vulgar pleasures. The sums now expended, every year, in a single article of appetite and of dead consumption, would defray every expense of this kind. In the same view, great cities will not be specially desired, and all confined employments will be obviated, as far as possible. For it is not in great cities, nor in the confined shops of trade, but principally in agriculture, that the best stock or staple of men is grown. It is in the open air, in communion with the sky, the earth, and all living things, that the largest inspiration is drunk in, and the vital energies of a real man constructed. The modern improvements in machinery have facilitated production to such a degree that when they become diffused through the world, only a few hands, comparatively, will be requisite in the mechanic arts; and those engaged in agriculture, being proportionally more numerous, will be more in a condition of ease. Here opens a new and sublime hope. If a state can maintain the practice of a pure morality, and can unite with agriculture a taste for learning and science, and the generous exercises I have named, a race of men will ultimately be raised up, having a physical volume, a native majesty and force of mind, such as no age has yet produced. Or if this be not done, if the race are to sink down into idleness and effeminate pleasures, as production is facilitated, the great inventions we prize will certainly result in a dwarfed and degraded staple of manhood.
THE STURDY HOMESPUN WORSHIP.
[From a Secular Sermon at the Litchfield Co. Centennial Celebration, 1851.- Work and Play. 1864.]
OROBABLY it [the meeting-house] stands on some hill, midway between three or four valleys, whither the tribes go up to worship, and, when the snow-drifts are deepest, go literally from strength to strength. There is no furnace or stove, save the foot-stoves that are
filled from the fires of the neighboring houses, and brought in partly as a rather formal compliment to the delicacy of the tender sex, and sometimes because they are really wanted. The dress of the assembly is mostly homespun, indicating only slight distinctions of quality in the worshippers. They are seated according to age, the old king Lemuels and their queens in front, near the pulpit, and the younger Lemuels farther back, inclosed in pews, sitting back to back, impounded, all, for deep thought and spiritual digestion; only the deacons, sitting close under the pulpit, by themselves, to receive, as their distinctive honor, the more perpendicular droppings of the word. Clean round the front of the gallery is drawn a single row of choir, headed by the key-pipe, in the centre. The pulpit is overhung by an august wooden canopy, called a sounding-board-study general, of course, and first lesson of mystery to the eyes of the children, until what time their ears are opened to understand the spoken mysteries.
There is no affectation of seriousness in the assembly, no mannerism of worship; some would say too little of the manner of worship. They think of nothing, in fact, save what meets their intelligence and enters into them by that method. They appear like men who have a digestion for strong meat, and have no conception that trifles more delicate can be of any account to feed the system. Nothing is dull that has the matter in it, nothing long that has not exhausted the matter. If the minister speaks in his great coat and thick gloves or mittens, if the howling blasts of winter drive in across the assembly fresh streams of ventilation that move the hair upon their heads, they are none the less content, if only he gives them good strong exercise. Under their hard, and, as some would say, stolid faces, great thoughts are brewing, and these keep them warm. Free-will, fixed fate, foreknowledge absolute, trinity, redemption, special grace, eternity-give them anything high enough, and the tough muscle of their inward man will be climbing sturdily into it; and if they go away having something to think of, they have had a good day. A perceptible glow will kindle in their hard faces, only when some one of the chief apostles, a Day, a Smith, or a Bellamy, has come to lead them up some higher pinnacle of thought, or pile upon their sturdy mind some heavier weight of argument-fainting never under any weight, even that which, to the foreign critics of the discourses preached by them and others of their day, it seems impossible for any, the most cultivated audience in the world, to have supported. These royal men of homespun--how great a thing to them was religion! The district school was there, the great Bellamy is here among the highest peaks and solitudes of divine government, and between is close living and hard work, but they are kings alike in all !
True, there was a rigor in their piety, a want of gentle feeling; their
Christian graces were cast-iron shapes, answering with a hard metallic ring. But they stood the rough wear of life none the less durably for the excessive hardness of their temperament, kept their families and communities none the less truly, though it may be less benignly, under the sense of God and religion. If we find something to modify or soften, in their over-rigid notions of Christian living, it is yet something to know that what we are they have made us, and that, when we have done better for the ages that come after us, we shall have a more certain right to blame their austerities.
View them as we may, there is yet, and always will be, something magnificent in their stern, practical fidelity to their principles. If they believed it to be more scriptural and Christian to begin their Sunday, not with the western, but with the Jewish and other eastern nations, at the sunset on Saturday, their practice did not part company with their principles-it was sundown at sundown, not somewhere between that time and the next morning. Thus, being despatched, when a lad, one Saturday afternoon in the winter, to bring home a few bushels of apples engaged of a farmer a mile distant, I remember how the careful, exact man looked first at the clock, then out the window at the sun, and turning to me said, "I cannot measure out the apples in time for you to get home before sundown; you must come again Monday;" then how I went home, venting my boyish impatience in words not exactly respectful, assisted by the sunlight playing still upon the eastern hills, and got for my comfort a very unaccountably small amount of specially silent sympathy.
I have never yet ascertained whether that refusal was exactly justified by the patriarchal authorities appealed to or not. Be that as it may, have what opinion of it you will, I confess to you, for one, that I recall the honest, faithful days of homespun represented in it, days when men's lives went by their consciences, as their clocks did by the sun, with a feeling of profoundest reverence. It is more than respectable-it is sublime. If we find a more liberal way, and think we are safe in it, or if we are actually so, we can never yet break loose from a willing respect to this inflexible, majestic paternity of truth and godliness.