Page images

there not danger that leaders in religion, will in some way make as many as they can, commit themselves to certain movements, so that pride of character will do for them what conscience would not. If the politician is in the habit of show ing forth his patriotism by talking, rather than by doing the duties of a good citizen, is there not danger that the religionist will endeavor to show forth his piety by talking, rather than by doing the duties of a good Christian. In short, is there not danger from superficial views of Christianity, that the religion of our country will assume the character, and the defects, of our political institutions ?

Again, the present age is characterized by improvements in physical comforts and the arts of life. This is the natural consequence of the application of knowledge. A large amount of labor that used to be employed in making the necessaries of life, can now, by the use of machinery, be employed in improvements. Every man knows, that there is fair chance for bettering his condition. Reverses there have indeed been during the last six years. But compare the country now with what it was twenty five years since, and you will have no doubt that great progress has been made in these improve


One evil growing out of this good, is that of discontent. The chance of bettering their condition, will not let men rest satisfied with their condition, though theirs is a good one. They can not let well alone, while they know there is a better. They must engage in some promising enterprise, even if it is hazardous, or they envy those who have been more successful than themselves. And then too, as money answereth all things in gaining these physical comforts, they have learned to sacrifice the virtues and charities of social and domestic life at the shrine

of avarice. The cry is, with all thy getting, get money.

Another evil kindred to this, is, that inasmuch as men have changed their condition in many respects for the better, they have come to feel that change is the same as improvement; that what is old, is bad; that what is new, is good. On this ground, they are ready to exchange their old political opinions, their old modes of education, their old forms of worship, their old religion, for new political principles, new modes of education, new forms of worship, and a new religion; just as they would exchange an old garment for a new one. They plume themselves upon being up with the times; but they forget, perhaps they never knew, that old errors are raked up from the rubbish of centuries, and embraced with rapture under new names. If you join a political party, they will change their principles and "shoot you as a deserter," if you do not change with them, even though you joined them on account of the principles which they have deserted.

Moreover, the age in which we live is characterized by a spirit of active benevolence. A vast number of Christians acting on the principle, that they are not their own, being bought with a price by Him who went about doing good, regard the spirit of benevolence as at once the test and the fruit of discipleship; as at once the pledge and the earnest of heaven.

While we rejoice over the good, let us as before, look at the corresponding evils. One evil is, that

we are exposed to have a bustling and ostentatious religion. There is a certain kind of honor connected with patronizing the various objects of benevolence, whether by money or influence. For the sake of gaining this honor, men may be tempted away from the modest and retired modes of duty, to a violation of the injunction: "Take heed that ye

do not your alms before men to be seen of them." This spirit of benevolence, so excellent in its nature, has created a vast number of offices to which ambition can aspire, by means of the various organizations which it has originated. These offices may not offer as large an emolument, to tempt avarice; but they confer as much respecta bility and influence, as some of the higher offices of prelacy, and they may be coveted as much.

Another evil is, that by yielding the mind habitually to reasons addressed to benevolent feelings, the moral character of an action comes to be measured by the good which it produces. "Such an action produced a great amount of good; it must therefore be right." Just as if a man may perpetrate any enormities, and call them virtuous, provided they appear to produce good. Just as if the end being good, will sanctify the means! Just as if truth may be violated, and promises broken, and justice outraged, if good appears to be produced by so doing!

Another evil to which we are exposed is, that in the subdivision of the objects of benevolence, certain associations, through the activity of their agents, will teach the community to attach a disproportionate importance to the objects which they were organized to promote. Some of these objects, more exciting in themselves than other objects equally important, when presented by some eloquent agent who has his speech perfectly committed, make a strong impression on the public mind; while the other objects are overlooked. These men, in their zeal to form public sentiment, deal in high-wrought descriptions and startling statements in favor of their cause. They place in the foreground of the picture their own object, in bright colors and in strong relief; while other objects, if noticed at all, are placed far in the back

[ocr errors]

ground, in dim perspective, as of much less importance.

But besides thus presenting a dis torted view of the gospel, which exposes the Christian under its influ ence to the danger of losing the symmetry of a perfect man in Christ for a monstrous development, there is another evil. By the presentation of thrilling description, high-wrought statement, impassioned appeals to the public mind, it is taught to lose its relish for simple truth, just as the drunkard loses his relish for pure water. Something more exciting is needed. The simple truths of nature and revelation must be distilled in the alembic of a heated imagination, to furnish a moral alcohol for the public taste.

Besides, by multiplying organizations of this kind, there is danger that large classes of the most active and efficient Christians, in their attachment to some particular associations, will decline from the higher and more spiritual doctrines and duties, into narrow views and intolerant feelings; that, in this way, some of these associations will become arrayed against each other, like two hostile armies; that there will be challenge and defiance, crimination and recrimination, bitter words and bitter feelings, until, in the rage of contention, the great doctrines and duties of the gospel will be lost sight of on both sides. And what aggravates the evil of this war is, that it is carried into the very heart of the church. Formerly there were standing controversies between the religious denominations. These controversies appear in some degree to have subsided, so that now, in the opinion of some, there is more of a tendency than formerly to union. But, unfortunately, while there has been a gain, so far as the external relations of some of these denominations are concerned, there has been a loss, in some degree, of internal peace.

As the last general topic, we shall

Having been under this treatment, they will burn down a convent at one place, and a hall at another; hang up men without judge or jury ; move in mobs, especially at elections; assault private houses and the mansion of the president of the na tion; while in a thousand minor ways they will outrage the proprie ties of life. They will violate the majesty of the law and the shrine of justice, and even the sacred rights of our common nature; and all for what? They have been told that some great interest is thereby promoted. Fixing their thoughts upon a narrow range of objects, they are hurried on by their excited feelings, first to decide important questions without evidence, and then to act regardless of consequences. How their understanding is warped by their passions! "All is fair in pol itics," is a practical rule with them. Why? Because success in their eyes is more valuable than the truth and honor sacrificed for its sake. "Any measures that will accomplish the conversion of a sinner," is a maxim sometimes adopted; just as if his happiness is of more value than the rectitude of his spiritual guide.

notice the great susceptibility of the these proposed agencies and measpublic mind. The fact that such ures. This recipe never fails. a susceptibility exists, is too well known to require any proof. The time has gone by, when subjects deemed important were treated with indifference. Hardly a subject connected with politics, morals, education, or religion, can now be presented, without its awakening emotions either of dislike or approbation. Without dwelling on the obvious good connected with this susceptibility of the public mind, we will bestow a glance on the comparative evils. There is danger that the public generally will acquire an habitual love of excitement. This is perfectly evident from the nature of the human constitution. Excite ment, through the passions of the mind, can become habitual, as well as through the appetites of the body; the excitement of anger as well as the excitement of alcohol. There is an intoxication from the passions, as well as the intoxication from ardent spirits; and what is remarkable, they agree in their immediate and their remote effects. The one is equally seductive as the other. Now it has been found that by using the appropriate means, it is perfectly easy, on any important subject, to get up an excitement in the community. By means of the press and the eloquent tongue, especially if there is a combination of effort, it has been found that public opinion can be manufactured in any quantity, and public feeling excited to any de. gree. This is the approved recipe for doing it. First, get up an alarm in respect to some important inter

[blocks in formation]

But such excitements in some cases embitter as well as corrupt the public mind. They injure the temper of the subject of them, as evidently as the excitement of alcohol. He shows it in his unsocial and morose conduct towards those who differ from him, in his censorious words, and even in the tones of voice and in the harsh expression of his countenance. Thus it is that they plant many a root of bitterness in the community, which springing up, troubles it. For some years the public mind has been in a chafed and excited state; and just in proportion to the degree of excitement, whether on politics, morals or religion, has there been a repulsion between the

elementary parts that compose it, just as bodies charged with electricity repel each other. A fierce and fiery spirit has been awakened in large masses of the people, which ever and anon blazes out with destructive energy, in different parts of the country, threatening to lay waste our fair heritage.

In the above remarks it has not been our intention to sustain the positions we have taken by an induction of facts; since the memory of the intelligent reader can furnish

them. Nor was it our intention to illustrate them by moral painting, though this can so easily be done. Our aim has been simply to present a connected view of certain advantages which our country enjoys at the present time, with their attendant evils, in order that we may not only be grateful to the Giver of all good for these advantages, but likewise having a distinct knowledge of these evils, we may successfully guard ourselves against the dangers to which they expose us.


Mr. B. Is there any prospect that the community will ever understand your new system of philosophy and faith? For years the inquiry has been "What is Transcendentalism?" and no intelligible answer has been given. The terms you use to express your ideas are new and hard to be understood. If you will drop your strange terminology and give your thoughts in plain, common sense language, you will do me a favor as an honest searcher after truth. If you have new things as well as new words and names, why can not you in a familiar way, communicate them?

Mr. A. You can readily see that a person may have ideas which can not be conveyed with precision to those who have had neither the ideas nor the words by which they are expressed. It is so in all the sciences, and particularly in the science of thought. But the principal reason why we are not understood is, men think so superficially. Most minds skim over the surface of a thousand subjects, but few dive deep into the sea of thought, remain long enough for distinct vision, and seize and bring up the precious pearls. How often do you throw out thoughts which, to your own mind, are great

and comprehensive, scarcely a gleam of which enters the brain of one in twenty of your hearers! How little original thinking is there among that numerous class of our citizens who are called educated. Most of them dare not trust themselves with an idea which did not come from their text-books. If the guardian angel, genius, should suggest a new thought to their minds, they would crush it in the birth lest it should grow into an heresy. Look at the books which fly from the press like autumn leaves from the tree, without one new thought. An original mind, a genius, rarely appears, and is as rarely appreciated by his own age. The prophet is not in honor in his own country. This has been true in all time; it always will be true, for to be a genius is to be in advance of one's own age. Human pride and self-sufficiency predispose men to be ungrateful for teachings more inspired than their own. Dost thou teach us?" is their contemptuous reply to those who now attempt to open the eyes of the blind; and "they cast them out."

Mr. B. Well, granting that to your mind there is an extent and depth of meaning in the terms of your philosophy which I do not see,

yet is it not possible to convey to my mind some true and definite idea of the thing called Transcendentalism? Dropping its scientific terms and all technicalities, can we not talk upon the real thing in plain English?

Mr. A. I trust we may, to some extent at least; for the thing, as you call it, is more generally felt than you suppose. It has been said that every one is, in a sense, a poet; no one can read a poem well if not in a poetic mood. So I would say, every one is, in a sense, a transcendentalist; that is, all who allow their minds any latitude of thought, at times have thoughts and feelings which are properly called transcendental. Hence we have aimed to establish schools, that the mind even in childhood, before it becomes cramped by forms, and before the inner light of the soul becomes dimmed or totally extinguished by the senses, may receive a right direction; be made to think for itself, and be led to see-not the forms of things, but things themselves. All men, though in different degrees and varied forms, would be transcendentalists if they received a spiritual rather than a sensual culture.

Mr. B. Let us here come directly to the point. I have long suspected myself of transcendentalism, and would gladly gather from you some clear idea of it, that I may know whether I am within or with out the pale of discipleship.

Mr. A. But you must remember that this is a very extensive subject. It would lead us a long way back, to Kant and even to Plato. The writings of many in Germany, of some in England and France, and a few in our own country, must be discussed, in order to get a clear view of the whole. And then there are all varieties and degrees of transcendentalism. Those in Germany who followed Kant and adopted much of his philosophy, differed from him in many important particulars. Fichte,

Schelling, Hegel, had each his own system, though they have been called transcendentalists. What, in loose language, is termed transcendentalism, is variously modified in different countries by different individuals, who have embraced that system of metaphysics which, leav ing the field of sensual knowledge, soars into the regions of pure thought. The transcendentalists of our country, influenced to a great extent by the writings of Carlyle, have made great advances upon the Kantean philosophy; we have not only gone farther in our search for spiritual truth, but we have applied our philosophy to different subjects, and made it bear more directly upon the duties and relations of life.

Mr. B. We will leave, as far as possible, names and systems, as well as technicalities, out of view. I wish to talk with you upon your transcendentalism, and know whether it is possible for us to understand each other.

Mr. A. I will comply with your request upon one condition. You shall not reproach me with nonsense and fog if you fail to apprehend my meaning. Your sensual school of philosophy

Mr. B. Stop, lest we raise bad blood in settling the preliminaries. I accept the condition, and propose that we commence with man. You claim that your views of man's spiritual nature are altogether truer and nobler than those which generally prevail.

Mr. A. Instead of considering man a mere creature of sense and intellect, but little superior to animal instinct, we view him a free, spiritual existence, of unlimited capacities, possessed of a soul truly godlike, and in every way qualified for knowing truth and duty. Locke has entirely misled the world in some of the most vital points. Making the soul a blank leaf, upon which, with the pen of the five senses, external objects wrote whatsoever they listed,

« PreviousContinue »