It lies deep in our habits, confirmed by all manner of educational and other arrangements for several centuries back, to consider human talent as best of all evincing itself by the faculty of eloquent speech. Our earliest schoolmasters teach us, as the one gift of culture they have, the art of spelling and pronouncing, the rules of correct speech; rhetorics, logics follow, sublime mysteries of grammar, whereby we may not only speak but write. And onward to the last of our schoolmasters in the highest university, it is still intrinsically grammar, under various figures grammar. To speak in various languages, on various things, but on all of them to speak, and appropriately deliver ourselves by tongue or pen, — this is the sublime goal towards which all manner of beneficent preceptors and learned professors, from the lowest hornbook upwards, are continually urging and guiding us. Preceptor or professor, looking over his miraculous seedplot, seminary as he well calls it, or crop of young human souls, watches with attentive view one organ of his delightful little seedlings growing to be men, — the tongue. He hopes we shall all get to speak yet, if it please Heaven. “Some of you shall be book-writers, eloquent review-writers, and astonish mankind, my young friends: others in white neckcloths shall do sermons by Blair and Lindley Murray, nay by Jeremy Taylor and judicious Hooker, and be priests to guide men heavenward by skilfully brandished handkerchief and the torch of rhetoric. For others there is Parliament and the election beer-barrel, and a course that leads men very high indeed; these shall shake the senate-house, the Morning Newspapers, shake the very spheres, and by dexterous wagging of the tongue disenthrall mankind, and lead our afflicted country and us on the way we are to go. The way if not where noble deeds are done, yet where noble words are spoken, — leading us if not to the real Home of the Gods, at least to something which shall more or less deceptively resemble it!”
So fares it with the son of Adam, in these bewildered epochs; so, from the first opening of his eyes in this world, to his last closing of them, and departure hence. Speak, speak, oh speak; — if thou have any faculty, speak it, or thou diest and it is no faculty! So in universities, and all manner of dames’ and other schools, of the very highest class as of the very lowest; and Society at large, when we enter there, confirms with all its brilliant review-articles, successful publications, intellectual tea-circles, literary gazettes, parliamentary eloquences, the grand lesson we had. Other lesson in fact we have none, in these times. If there be a human talent, let it get into the tongue, and make melody with that organ. The talent that can say nothing for itself, what is it? Nothing; or a thing that can do mere drudgeries, and at best make money by railways.
All this is deep-rooted in our habits, in our social, educational and other arrangements; and all this, when we look at it impartially, is astonishing. Directly in the teeth of all this it may be asserted that speaking is by no means the chief faculty a human being can attain to; that his excellence therein is by no means the best test of his general human excellence, or availability in this world; nay that, unless we look well, it is liable to become the very worst test ever devised for said availability. The matter extends very far, down to the very roots of the world, whither the British reader cannot conveniently follow me just now; but I will venture to assert the three following things, and invite him to consider well what truth he can gradually find in them:—
First, that excellent speech, even speech really excellent, is not, and never was, the chief test of human faculty, or the measure of a man’s ability, for any true function whatsoever; on the contrary, that excellent silence needed always to accompany excellent speech, and was and is a much rarer and more difficult gift.
Secondly, that really excellent speech — which I, being possessed of the Hebrew Bible or Book, as well as of other books in my own and foreign languages, and having occasionally heard a wise man’s word among the crowd of unwise, do almost unspeakably esteem, as a human gift — is terribly apt to get confounded with its counterfeit, sham-excellent speech! And furthermore, that if really excellent human speech is among the best of human things, then sham-excellent ditto deserves to be ranked with the very worst. False speech, — capable of becoming, as some one has said, the falsest and basest of all human things:— put the case, one were listening to that as to the truest and noblest! Which, little as we are conscious of it, I take to be the sad lot of many excellent souls among us just now. So many as admire parliamentary eloquence, divine popular literature, and such like, are dreadfully liable to it just now: and whole nations and generations seem as if getting themselves asphyxiaed, constitutionally into their last sleep, by means of it just now!
For alas, much as we worship speech on all hands, here is a third assertion which a man may venture to make, and invite considerate men to reflect upon: That in these times, and for several generations back, there has been, strictly considered, no really excellent speech at all, but sham-excellent merely; that is to say, false or quasi-false speech getting itself admired and worshipped, instead of detested and suppressed. A truly alarming predicament; and not the less so if we find it a quite pleasant one for the time being, and welcome the advent of asphyxia, as we would that of comfortable natural sleep; — as, in so many senses, we are doing! Surly judges there have been who did not much admire the “Bible of Modern Literature,” or anything you could distil from it, in contrast with the ancient Bibles; and found that in the matter of speaking, our far best excellence, where that could be obtained, was excellent silence, which means endurance and exertion, and good work with lips closed; and that our tolerablest speech was of the nature of honest commonplace introduced where indispensable, which only set up for being brief and true, and could not be mistaken for excellent.
These are hard sayings for many a British reader, unconscious of any damage, nay joyfully conscious to himself of much profit, from that side of his possessions. Surely on this side, if on no other, matters stood not ill with him? The ingenuous arts had softened his manners; the parliamentary eloquences supplied him with a succedaneum for government, the popular literatures with the finer sensibilities of the heart: surely on this windward side of things the British reader was not ill off? — Unhappy British reader!
In fact, the spiritual detriment we unconsciously suffer, in every province of our affairs, from this our prostrate respect to power of speech is incalculable. For indeed it is the natural consummation of an epoch such as ours. Given a general insincerity of mind for several generations, you will certainly find the Talker established in the place of honor; and the Doer, hidden in the obscure crowd, with activity lamed, or working sorrowfully forward on paths unworthy of him. All men are devoutly prostrate, worshipping the eloquent talker; and no man knows what a scandalous idol he is. Out of whom in the mildest manner, like comfortable natural rest, comes mere asphyxia and death everlasting! Probably there is not in Nature a more distracted phantasm than your commonplace eloquent speaker, as he is found on platforms, in parliaments, on Kentucky stumps, at tavern-dinners, in windy, empty, insincere times like ours. The “excellent Stump-orator,” as our admiring Yankee friends define him, he who in any occurrent set of circumstances can start forth, mount upon his “stump,” his rostrum, tribune, place in parliament, or other ready elevation, and pour forth from him his appropriate “excellent speech,” his interpretation of the said circumstances, in such manner as poor windy mortals round him shall cry bravo to, — he is not an artist I can much admire, as matters go! Alas, he is in general merely the windiest mortal of them all; and is admired for being so, into the bargain. Not a windy blockhead there who kept silent but is better off than this excellent stump-orator. Better off, for a great many reasons; for this reason, were there no other: the silent one is not admired; the silent suspects, perhaps partly admits, that he is a kind of blockhead, from which salutary self-knowledge the excellent stump-orator is debarred. A mouthpiece of Chaos to poor benighted mortals that lend ear to him as to a voice from Cosmos, this excellent stump-orator fills me with amazement. Not empty these musical wind-utterances of his; they are big with prophecy; they announce, too audibly to me, that the end of many things is drawing nigh!
Let the British reader consider it a little; he too is not a little interested in it. Nay he, and the European reader in general, but he chiefly in these days, will require to consider it a great deal, — and to take important steps in consequence by and by, if I mistake not. And in the mean while, sunk as he himself is in that bad element, and like a jaundiced man struggling to discriminate yellow colors, — he will have to meditate long before he in any measure get the immense meanings of the thing brought home to him; and discern, with astonishment, alarm, and almost terror and despair, towards what fatal issues, in our Collective Wisdom and elsewhere, this notion of talent meaning eloquent speech, so obstinately entertained this long while, has been leading us! Whosoever shall look well into origins and issues, will find this of eloquence and the part it now plays in our affairs, to be one of the gravest phenomena; and the excellent stump-orator of these days to be not only a ridiculous but still more a highly tragical personage. While the many listen to him, the few are used to pass rapidly, with some gust of scornful laughter, some growl of impatient malediction; but he deserves from this latter class a much more serious attention.
In the old Ages, when Universities and Schools were first instituted, this function of the schoolmaster, to teach mere speaking, was the natural one. In those healthy times, guided by silent instincts and the monition of Nature, men had from of old been used to teach themselves what it was essential to learn, by the one sure method of learning anything, practical apprenticeship to it. This was the rule for all classes; as it now is the rule, unluckily, for only one class. The Working Man as yet sought only to know his craft; and educated himself sufficiently by ploughing and hammering, under the conditions given, and in fit relation to the persons given: a course of education, then as now and ever, really opulent in manful culture and instruction to him; teaching him many solid virtues, and most indubitably useful knowledges; developing in him valuable faculties not a few both to do and to endure, — among which the faculty of elaborate grammatical utterance, seeing he had so little of extraordinary to utter, or to learn from spoken or written utterances, was not bargained for; the grammar of Nature, which he learned from his mother, being still amply sufficient for him. This was, as it still is, the grand education of the Working Man.
As for the Priest, though his trade was clearly of a reading and speaking nature, he knew also in those veracious times that grammar, if needful, was by no means the one thing needful, or the chief thing. By far the chief thing needful, and indeed the one thing then as now, was, That there should be in him the feeling and the practice of reverence to God and to men; that in his life’s core there should dwell, spoken or silent, a ray of pious wisdom fit for illuminating dark human destinies; — not so much that he should possess the art of speech, as that he should have something to speak! And for that latter requisite the Priest also trained himself by apprenticeship, by actual attempt to practise, by manifold long-continued trial, of a devout and painful nature, such as his superiors prescribed to him. This, when once judged satisfactory, procured him ordination; and his grammar-learning, in the good times of priesthood, was very much of a parergon with him, as indeed in all times it is intrinsically quite insignificant in comparison.
The young Noble again, for whom grammar schoolmasters were first hired and high seminaries founded, he too without these, or above and over these, had from immemorial time been used to learn his business by apprenticeship. The young Noble, before the schoolmaster as after him, went apprentice to some elder noble; entered himself as page with some distinguished earl or duke; and here, serving upwards from step to step, under wise monition, learned his chivalries, his practice of arms and of courtesies, his baronial duties and manners, and what it would beseem him to do and to be in the world, — by practical attempt of his own, and example of one whose life was a daily concrete pattern for him. To such a one, already filled with intellectual substance, and possessing what we may call the practical gold-bullion of human culture, it was an obvious improvement that he should be taught to speak it out of him on occasion; that he should carry a spiritual banknote producible on demand for what of “gold-bullion” he had, not so negotiable otherwise, stored in the cellars of his mind. A man, with wisdom, insight and heroic worth already acquired for him, naturally demanded of the schoolmaster this one new faculty, the faculty of uttering in fit words what he had. A valuable superaddition of faculty:— and yet we are to remember it was scarcely a new faculty; it was but the tangible sign of what other faculties the man had in the silent state: and many a rugged inarticulate chief of men, I can believe, was most enviably “educated,” who had not a Book on his premises; whose signature, a true sign-manual, was the stamp of his iron hand duly inked and clapt upon the parchment; and whose speech in Parliament, like the growl of lions, did indeed convey his meaning, but would have torn Lindley Murray’s nerves to pieces! To such a one the schoolmaster adjusted himself very naturally in that manner; as a man wanted for teaching grammatical utterance; the thing to utter being already there. The thing to utter, here was the grand point! And perhaps this is the reason why among earnest nations, as among the Romans for example, the craft of the schoolmaster was held in little regard; for indeed as mere teacher of grammar, of ciphering on the abacus and such like, how did he differ much from the dancing-master or fencing-master, or deserve much regard? — Such was the rule in the ancient healthy times.
Can it be doubtful that this is still the rule of human education; that the human creature needs first of all to be educated not that he may speak, but that he may have something weighty and valuable to say! If speech is the bank-note of an inward capital of culture, of insight and noble human worth, then speech is precious, and the art of speech shall be honored. But if there is no inward capital; if speech represent no real culture of the mind, but an imaginary culture; no bullion, but the fatal and now almost hopeless deficit of such? Alas, alas, said bank-note is then a forged one; passing freely current in the market; but bringing damages to the receiver, to the payer, and to all the world, which are in sad truth infallible, and of amount incalculable. Few think of it at present; but the truth remains forever so. In parliaments and other loud assemblages, your eloquent talk, disunited from Nature and her facts, is taken as wisdom and the correct image of said facts: but Nature well knows what it is, Nature will not have it as such, and will reject your forged note one day, with huge costs. The foolish traders in the market pass freely, nothing doubting, and rejoice in the dexterous execution of the piece: and so it circulates from hand to hand, and from class to class; gravitating ever downwards towards the practical class; till at last it reaches some poor working hand, who can pass it no farther, but must take it to the bank to get bread with it, and there the answer is, “Unhappy caitiff, this note is forged. It does not mean performance and reality, in parliaments and elsewhere, for thy behoof; it means fallacious semblance of performance; and thou, poor dupe, art thrown into the stocks on offering it here!”
Alas, alas, looking abroad over Irish difficulties, Mosaic sweating-establishments, French barricades, and an anarchic Europe, is it not as if all the populations of the world were rising or had risen into incendiary madness; — unable longer to endure such an avalanche of forgeries, and of penalties in consequence, as had accumulated upon them? The speaker is “excellent;” the notes he does are beautiful? Beautifully fit for the market, yes; he is an excellent artist in his business; — and the more excellent he is, the more is my desire to lay him by the heels, and fling him into the treadmill, that I might save the poor sweating tailors, French Sansculottes, and Irish Sanspotatoes from bearing the smart!
For the smart must be borne; some one must bear it, as sure as God lives. Every word of man is either a note or a forged note:— have these eternal skies forgotten to be in earnest, think you, because men go grinning like enchanted apes? Foolish souls, this now as of old is the unalterable law of your existence. If you know the truth and do it, the Universe itself seconds you, bears you on to sure victory everywhere:— and, observe, to sure defeat everywhere if you do not do the truth. And alas, if you know only the eloquent fallacious semblance of the truth, what chance is there of your ever doing it? You will do something very different from it, I think! — He who well considers, will find this same “art of speech,” as we moderns have it, to be a truly astonishing product of the Ages; and the longer he considers it, the more astonishing and alarming. I reckon it the saddest of all the curses that now lie heavy on us. With horror and amazement, one perceives that this much-celebrated “art,” so diligently practised in all corners of the world just now, is the chief destroyer of whatever good is born to us (softly, swiftly shutting up all nascent good, as if under exhausted glass receivers, there to choke and die); and the grand parent manufactory of evil to us, — as it were, the last finishing and varnishing workshop of all the Devil’s ware that circulates under the sun. No Devil’s sham is fit for the market till it have been polished and enamelled here; this is the general assaying-house for such, where the artists examine and answer, “Fit for the market; not fit!” Words will not express what mischiefs the misuse of words has done, and is doing, in these heavy-laden generations.
Do you want a man not to practise what he believes, then encourage him to keep often speaking it in words. Every time he speaks it, the tendency to do it will grow less. His empty speech of what he believes, will be a weariness and an affliction to the wise man. But do you wish his empty speech of what he believes, to become farther an insincere speech of what he does not believe? Celebrate to him his gift of speech; assure him that he shall rise in Parliament by means of it, and achieve great things without any performance; that eloquent speech, whether performed or not, is admirable. My friends, eloquent unperformed speech, in Parliament or elsewhere, is horrible! The eloquent man that delivers, in Parliament or elsewhere, a beautiful speech, and will perform nothing of it, but leaves it as if already performed, — what can you make of that man? He has enrolled himself among the Ignes Fatui and Children of the Wind; means to serve, as beautifully illuminated Chinese Lantern, in that corps henceforth. I think, the serviceable thing you could do to that man, if permissible, would be a severe one: To clip off a bit of his eloquent tongue by way of penance and warning; another bit, if he again spoke without performing; and so again, till you had clipt the whole tongue away from him, — and were delivered, you and he, from at least one miserable mockery: “There, eloquent friend, see now in silence if there be any redeeming deed in thee; of blasphemous wind-eloquence, at least, we shall have no more!” How many pretty men have gone this road, escorted by the beautifulest marching music from all the “public organs;” and have found at last that it ended — where? It is the broad road, that leads direct to Limbo and the Kingdom of the Inane. Gifted men, and once valiant nations, and as it were the whole world with one accord, are marching thither, in melodious triumph, all the drums and hautboys giving out their cheerfulest Ca-ira. It is the universal humor of the world just now. My friends, I am very sure you will arrive, unless you halt! —
Considered as the last finish of education, or of human culture, worth and acquirement, the art of speech is noble, and even divine; it is like the kindling of a Heaven’s light to show us what a glorious world exists, and has perfected itself, in a man. But if no world exist in the man; if nothing but continents of empty vapor, of greedy self-conceits, common-place hearsays, and indistinct loomings of a sordid chaos exist in him, what will be the use of “light” to show us that? Better a thousand times that such a man do not speak; but keep his empty vapor and his sordid chaos to himself, hidden to the utmost from all beholders. To look on that, can be good for no human beholder; to look away from that, must be good. And if, by delusive semblances of rhetoric, logic, first-class degrees, and the aid of elocution-masters and parliamentary reporters, the poor proprietor of said chaos should be led to persuade himself, and get others persuaded, — which it is the nature of his sad task to do, and which, in certain eras of the world, it is fatally possible to do, — that this is a cosmos which he owns; that he, being so perfect in tongue-exercise and full of college-honors, is an “educated” man, and pearl of great price in his generation; that round him, and his parliament emulously listening to him, as round some divine apple of gold set in a picture of silver, all the world should gather to adore: what is likely to become of him and the gathering world? An apple of Sodom set in the clusters of Gomorrah: that, little as he suspects it, is the definition of the poor chaotically eloquent man, with his emulous parliament and miserable adoring world! — Considered as the whole of education, or human culture, which it now is in our modern manners; all apprenticeship except to mere handicraft having fallen obsolete, and the “educated man” being with us emphatically and exclusively the man that can speak well with tongue or pen, and astonish men by the quantities of speech he has heard (“tremendous reader,” “walking encyclopaedia,” and such like), — the Art of Speech is probably definable in that case as the short summary of all the Black Arts put together.
But the Schoolmaster is secondary, an effect rather than a cause in this matter: what the Schoolmaster with his universities shall manage or attempt to teach will be ruled by what the Society with its practical industries is continually demanding that men should learn. We spoke once of vital lungs for Society: and in fact this question always rises as the alpha and omega of social questions, What methods the Society has of summoning aloft into the high places, for its help and governance, the wisdom that is born to it in all places, and of course is born chiefly in the more populous or lower places? For this, if you will consider it, expresses the ultimate available result, and net sum-total, of all the efforts, struggles and confused activities that go on in the Society; and determines whether they are true and wise efforts, certain to be victorious, or false and foolish, certain to be futile, and to fall captive and caitiff. How do men rise in your Society? In all Societies, Turkey included, and I suppose Dahomey included, men do rise; but the question of questions always is, What kind of men? Men of noble gifts, or men of ignoble? It is the one or the other; and a life-and-death inquiry which! For in all places and all times, little as you may heed it, Nature most silently but most inexorably demands that it be the one and not the other. And you need not try to palm an ignoble sham upon her, and call it noble; for she is a judge. And her penalties, as quiet as she looks, are terrible: amounting to world-earthquakes, to anarchy and death everlasting; and admit of no appeal! —
Surely England still flatters herself that she has lungs; that she can still breathe a little? Or is it that the poor creature, driven into mere blind industrialisms; and as it were, gone pearl-diving this long while many fathoms deep, and tearing up the oyster-beds so as never creature did before, hardly knows, — so busy in the belly of the oyster chaos, where is no thought of “breathing,” — whether she has lungs or not? Nations of a robust habit, and fine deep chest, can sometimes take in a deal of breath before diving; and live long, in the muddy deeps, without new breath: but they too come to need it at last, and will die if they cannot get it!
To the gifted soul that is born in England, what is the career, then, that will carry him, amid noble Olympic dust, up to the immortal gods? For his country’s sake, that it may not lose the service he was born capable of doing it; for his own sake, that his life be not choked and perverted, and his light from Heaven be not changed into lightning from the Other Place, — it is essential that there be such a career. The country that can offer no career in that case, is a doomed country; nay it is already a dead country: it has secured the ban of Heaven upon it; will not have Heaven’s light, will have the Other Place’s lightning; and may consider itself as appointed to expire, in frightful coughings of street musketry or otherwise, on a set day, and to be in the eye of law dead. In no country is there not some career, inviting to it either the noble Hero, or the tough Greek of the Lower Empire: which of the two do your careers invite? There is no question more important. The kind of careers you offer in countries still living, determines with perfect exactness the kind of the life that is in them, — whether it is natural blessed life, or galvanic accursed ditto, and likewise what degree of strength is in the same.
Our English careers to born genius are twofold. There is the silent or unlearned career of the Industrialisms, which are very many among us; and there is the articulate or learned career of the three professions, Medicine, Law (under which we may include Politics), and the Church. Your born genius, therefore, will first have to ask himself, Whether he can hold his tongue or cannot? True, all human talent, especially all deep talent, is a talent to do, and is intrinsically of silent nature; inaudible, like the Sphere Harmonies and Eternal Melodies, of which it is an incarnated fraction. All real talent, I fancy, would much rather, if it listened only to Nature’s monitions, express itself in rhythmic facts than in melodious words, which latter at best, where they are good for anything, are only a feeble echo and shadow or foreshadow of the former. But talents differ much in this of power to be silent; and circumstances, of position, opportunity and such like, modify them still more; — and Nature’s monitions, oftenest quite drowned in foreign hearsays, are by no means the only ones listened to in deciding! — The Industrialisms are all of silent nature; and some of them are heroic and eminently human; others, again, we may call unheroic, not eminently human: beaverish rather, but still honest; some are even vulpine, altogether inhuman and dishonest. Your born genius must make his choice.
If a soul is born with divine intelligence, and has its lips touched with hallowed fire, in consecration for high enterprises under the sun, this young soul will find the question asked of him by England every hour and moment: “Canst thou turn thy human intelligence into the beaver sort, and make honest contrivance, and accumulation of capital by it? If so, do it; and avoid the vulpine kind, which I don’t recommend. Honest triumphs in engineering and machinery await thee; scrip awaits thee, commercial successes, kingship in the counting-room, on the stock-exchange; — thou shalt be the envy of surrounding flunkies, and collect into a heap more gold than a dray-horse can draw.” — “Gold, so much gold?” answers the ingenuous soul, with visions of the envy of surrounding flunkies dawning on him; and in very many cases decides that he will contract himself into beaverism, and with such a horse-draught of gold, emblem of a never-imagined success in beaver heroism, strike the surrounding flunkies yellow.
This is our common course; this is in some sort open to every creature, what we call the beaver career; perhaps more open in England, taking in America too, than it ever was in any country before. And, truly, good consequences follow out of it: who can be blind to them? Half of a most excellent and opulent result is realized to us in this way; baleful only when it sets up (as too often now) for being the whole result. A half-result which will be blessed and heavenly so soon as the other half is had, — namely wisdom to guide the first half. Let us honor all honest human power of contrivance in its degree. The beaver intellect, so long as it steadfastly refuses to be vulpine, and answers the tempter pointing out short routes to it with an honest “No, no,” is truly respectable to me; and many a highflying speaker and singer whom I have known, has appeared to me much less of a developed man than certain of my mill-owning, agricultural, commercial, mechanical, or otherwise industrial friends, who have held their peace all their days and gone on in the silent state. If a man can keep his intellect silent, and make it even into honest beaverism, several very manful moralities, in danger of wreck on other courses, may comport well with that, and give it a genuine and partly human character; and I will tell him, in these days he may do far worse with himself and his intellect than change it into beaverism, and make honest money with it. If indeed he could become a heroic industrial, and have a life “eminently human”! But that is not easy at present. Probably some ninety-nine out of every hundred of our gifted souls, who have to seek a career for themselves, go this beaver road. Whereby the first half-result, national wealth namely, is plentifully realized; and only the second half, or wisdom to guide it, is dreadfully behindhand.
But now if the gifted soul be not of taciturn nature, be of vivid, impatient, rapidly productive nature, and aspire much to give itself sensible utterance, — I find that, in this case, the field it has in England is narrow to an extreme; is perhaps narrower than ever offered itself, for the like object, in this world before. Parliament, Church, Law: let the young vivid soul turn whither he will for a career, he finds among variable conditions one condition invariable, and extremely surprising, That the proof of excellence is to be done by the tongue. For heroism that will not speak, but only act, there is no account kept:— The English Nation does not need that silent kind, then, but only the talking kind? Most astonishing. Of all the organs a man has, there is none held in account, it would appear, but the tongue he uses for talking. Premiership, woolsack, mitre, and quasi-crown: all is attainable if you can talk with due ability. Everywhere your proof-shot is to be a well-fired volley of talk. Contrive to talk well, you will get to Heaven, the modern Heaven of the English. Do not talk well, only work well, and heroically hold your peace, you have no chance whatever to get thither; with your utmost industry you may get to Threadneedle Street, and accumulate more gold than a dray-horse can draw. Is not this a very wonderful arrangement?
I have heard of races done by mortals tied in sacks; of human competitors, high aspirants, climbing heavenward on the soaped pole; seizing the soaped pig; and clutching with cleft fist, at full gallop, the fated goose tied aloft by its foot; — which feats do prove agility, toughness and other useful faculties in man: but this of dexterous talk is probably as strange a competition as any. And the question rises, Whether certain of these other feats, or perhaps an alternation of all of them, relieved now and then by a bout of grinning through the collar, might not be profitably substituted for the solitary proof-feat of talk, now getting rather monotonous by its long continuance? Alas, Mr. Bull, I do find it is all little other than a proof of toughness, which is a quality I respect, with more or less expenditure of falsity and astucity superadded, which I entirely condemn. Toughness plus astucity:— perhaps a simple wooden mast set up in Palace–Yard, well soaped and duly presided over, might be the honester method? Such a method as this by trial of talk, for filling your chief offices in Church and State, was perhaps never heard of in the solar system before. You are quite used to it, my poor friend; and nearly dead by the consequences of it: but in the other Planets, as in other epochs of your own Planet it would have done had you proposed it, the thing awakens incredulous amazement, world-wide Olympic laughter, which ends in tempestuous hootings, in tears and horror! My friend, if you can, as heretofore this good while, find nobody to take care of your affairs but the expertest talker, it is all over with your affairs and you. Talk never yet could guide any man’s or nation’s affairs; nor will it yours, except towards the Limbus Patrum, where all talk, except a very select kind of it, lodges at last.
Medicine, guarded too by preliminary impediments, and frightful medusa-heads of quackery, which deter many generous souls from entering, is of the half-articulate professions, and does not much invite the ardent kinds of ambition. The intellect required for medicine might be wholly human, and indeed should by all rules be, — the profession of the Human Healer being radically a sacred one and connected with the highest priesthoods, or rather being itself the outcome and acme of all priesthoods, and divinest conquests of intellect here below. As will appear one day, when men take off their old monastic and ecclesiastic spectacles, and look with eyes again! In essence the Physician’s task is always heroic, eminently human: but in practice most unluckily at present we find it too become in good part beaverish; yielding a money-result alone. And what of it is not beaverish, — does not that too go mainly to ingenious talking, publishing of yourself, ingratiating of yourself; a partly human exercise or waste of intellect, and alas a partly vulpine ditto; — making the once sacred [Gr.] ’Iatros, or Human Healer, more impossible for us than ever!
Angry basilisks watch at the gates of Law and Church just now; and strike a sad damp into the nobler of the young aspirants. Hard bonds are offered you to sign; as it were, a solemn engagement to constitute yourself an impostor, before ever entering; to declare your belief in incredibilities, — your determination, in short, to take Chaos for Cosmos, and Satan for the Lord of things, if he come with money in his pockets, and horsehair and bombazine decently wrapt about him. Fatal preliminaries, which deter many an ingenuous young soul, and send him back from the threshold, and I hope will deter ever more. But if you do enter, the condition is well known: “Talk; who can talk best here? His shall be the mouth of gold, and the purse of gold; and with my [Gr.] mitra (once the head-dress of unfortunate females, I am told) shall his sacred temples be begirt.”
Ingenuous souls, unless forced to it, do now much shudder at the threshold of both these careers, and not a few desperately turn back into the wilderness rather, to front a very rude fortune, and be devoured by wild beasts as is likeliest. But as to Parliament, again, and its eligibility if attainable, there is yet no question anywhere; the ingenuous soul, if possessed of money-capital enough, is predestined by the parental and all manner of monitors to that career of talk; and accepts it with alacrity and clearness of heart, doubtful only whether he shall be able to make a speech. Courage, my brave young fellow. If you can climb a soaped pole of any kind, you will certainly be able to make a speech. All mortals have a tongue; and carry on some jumble, if not of thought, yet of stuff which they could talk. The weakest of animals has got a cry in it, and can give voice before dying. If you are tough enough, bent upon it desperately enough, I engage you shall make a speech; — but whether that will be the way to Heaven for you, I do not engage.
These, then, are our two careers for genius: mute Industrialism, which can seldom become very human, but remains beaverish mainly: and the three Professions named learned, — that is to say, able to talk. For the heroic or higher kinds of human intellect, in the silent state, there is not the smallest inquiry anywhere; apparently a thing not wanted in this country at present. What the supply may be, I cannot inform M’Croudy; but the market-demand, he may himself see, is nil. These are our three professions that require human intellect in part or whole, not able to do with mere beaverish; and such a part does the gift of talk play in one and all of them. Whatsoever is not beaverish seems to go forth in the shape of talk. To such length is human intellect wasted or suppressed in this world!
If the young aspirant is not rich enough for Parliament, and is deterred by the basilisks or otherwise from entering on Law or Church, and cannot altogether reduce his human intellect to the beaverish condition, or satisfy himself with the prospect of making money, — what becomes of him in such case, which is naturally the case of very many, and ever of more? In such case there remains but one outlet for him, and notably enough that too is a talking one: the outlet of Literature, of trying to write Books. Since, owing to preliminary basilisks, want of cash, or superiority to cash, he cannot mount aloft by eloquent talking, let him try it by dexterous eloquent writing. Here happily, having three fingers, and capital to buy a quire of paper, he can try it to all lengths and in spite of all mortals: in this career there is happily no public impediment that can turn him back; nothing but private starvation — which is itself a finis or kind of goal — can pretend to hinder a British man from prosecuting Literature to the very utmost, and wringing the final secret from her: “A talent is in thee; No talent is in thee.” To the British subject who fancies genius may be lodged in him, this liberty remains; and truly it is, if well computed, almost the only one he has.
A crowded portal this of Literature, accordingly! The haven of expatriated spiritualisms, and alas also of expatriated vanities and prurient imbecilities: here do the windy aspirations, foiled activities, foolish ambitions, and frustrate human energies reduced to the vocable condition, fly as to the one refuge left; and the Republic of Letters increases in population at a faster rate than even the Republic of America. The strangest regiment in her Majesty’s service, this of the Soldiers of Literature:— would your Lordship much like to march through Coventry with them? The immortal gods are there (quite irrecognizable under these disguises), and also the lowest broken valets; — an extremely miscellaneous regiment. In fact the regiment, superficially viewed, looks like an immeasurable motley flood of discharged play-actors, funambulists, false prophets, drunken ballad-singers; and marches not as a regiment, but as a boundless canaille, — without drill, uniform, captaincy or billet; with huge over-proportion of drummers; you would say, a regiment gone wholly to the drum, with hardly a good musket to be seen in it, — more a canaille than a regiment. Canaille of all the loud-sounding levities, and general winnowings of Chaos, marching through the world in a most ominous manner; proclaiming, audibly if you have ears: “Twelfth hour of the Night; ancient graves yawning; pale clammy Puseyisms screeching in their winding-sheets; owls busy in the City regions; many goblins abroad! Awake ye living; dream no more; arise to judgment! Chaos and Gehenna are broken loose; the Devil with his Bedlams must be flung in chains again, and the Last of the Days is about to dawn!” Such is Literature to the reflective soul at this moment.
But what now concerns us most is the circumstance that here too the demand is, Vocables, still vocables. In all appointed courses of activity and paved careers for human genius, and in this unpaved, unappointed, broadest career of Literature, broad way that leadeth to destruction for so many, the one duty laid upon you is still, Talk, talk. Talk well with pen or tongue, and it shall be well with you; do not talk well, it shall be ill with you. To wag the tongue with dexterous acceptability, there is for human worth and faculty, in our England of the Nineteenth Century, that one method of emergence and no other. Silence, you would say, means annihilation for the Englishman of the Nineteenth Century. The worth that has not spoken itself, is not; or is potentially only, and as if it were not. Vox is the God of this Universe. If you have human intellect, it avails nothing unless you either make it into beaverism, or talk with it. Make it into beaverism, and gather money; or else make talk with it, and gather what you can. Such is everywhere the demand for talk among us: to which, of course, the supply is proportionate.
From dinners up to woolsacks and divine mitres, here in England, much may be gathered by talk; without talk, of the human sort nothing. Is Society become wholly a bag of wind, then, ballasted by guineas? Are our interests in it as a sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal? — In Army or Navy, when unhappily we have war on hand, there is, almost against our will, some kind of demand for certain of the silent talents. But in peace, that too passes into mere demand of the ostentations, of the pipeclays and the blank cartridges; and, — except that Naval men are occasionally, on long voyages, forced to hold their tongue, and converse with the dumb elements, and illimitable oceans, that moan and rave there without you and within you, which is a great advantage to the Naval man, — our poor United Services have to make conversational windbags and ostentational paper-lanterns of themselves, or do worse, even as the others.
My friends, must I assert, then, what surely all men know, though all men seem to have forgotten it, That in the learned professions as in the unlearned, and in human things throughout, in every place and in every time, the true function of intellect is not that of talking, but of understanding and discerning with a view to performing! An intellect may easily talk too much, and perform too little. Gradually, if it get into the noxious habit of talk, there will less and less performance come of it, talk being so delightfully handy in comparison with work; and at last there will no work, or thought of work, be got from it at all. Talk, except as the preparation for work, is worth almost nothing; — sometimes it is worth infinitely less than nothing; and becomes, little conscious of playing such a fatal part, the general summary of pretentious nothingnesses, and the chief of all the curses the Posterity of Adam are liable to in this sublunary world! Would you discover the Atropos of Human Virtue; the sure Destroyer, “by painless extinction,” of Human Veracities, Performances, and Capabilities to perform or to be veracious, — it is this, you have it here.
Unwise talk is matchless in unwisdom. Unwise work, if it but persist, is everywhere struggling towards correction, and restoration to health; for it is still in contact with Nature, and all Nature incessantly contradicts it, and will heal it or annihilate it: not so with unwise talk, which addresses itself, regardless of veridical Nature, to the universal suffrages; and can if it be dexterous, find harbor there till all the suffrages are bankrupt and gone to Houndsditch, Nature not interfering with her protest till then. False speech, definable as the acme of unwise speech, is capable, as we already said, of becoming the falsest of all things. Falsest of all things:— and whither will the general deluge of that, in Parliament and Synagogue, in Book and Broadside, carry you and your affairs, my friend, when once they are embarked on it as now?
Parliament, Parliamentum, is by express appointment the Talking Apparatus; yet not in Parliament either is the essential function, by any means, talk. Not to speak your opinion well, but to have a good and just opinion worth speaking, — for every Parliament, as for every man, this latter is the point. Contrive to have a true opinion, you will get it told in some way, better or worse; and it will be a blessing to all creatures. Have a false opinion, and tell it with the tongue of Angels, what can that profit? The better you tell it, the worse it will be!
In Parliament and out of Parliament, and everywhere in this Universe, your one salvation is, That you can discern with just insight, and follow with noble valor, what the law of the case before you is, what the appointment of the Maker in regard to it has been. Get this out of one man, you are saved; fail to get this out of the most August Parliament wrapt in the sheepskins of a thousand years, you are lost, — your Parliament, and you, and all your sheepskins are lost. Beautiful talk is by no means the most pressing want in Parliament! We have had some reasonable modicum of talk in Parliament! What talk has done for us in Parliament, and is now doing, the dullest of us at length begins to see!
Much has been said of Parliament’s breeding men to business; of the training an Official Man gets in this school of argument and talk. He is here inured to patience, tolerance; sees what is what in the Nation and in the Nation’s Government attains official knowledge, official courtesy and manners — in short, is polished at all points into official articulation, and here better than elsewhere qualifies himself to be a Governor of men. So it is said. — Doubtless, I think, he will see and suffer much in Parliament, and inure himself to several things; — he will, with what eyes he has, gradually see Parliament itself, for one thing; what a high-soaring, helplessly floundering, ever-babbling yet inarticulate dark dumb Entity it is (certainly one of the strangest under the sun just now): which doubtless, if he have in view to get measures voted there one day, will be an important acquisition for him. But as to breeding himself for a Doer of Work, much more for a King, or Chief of Doers, here in this element of talk; as to that I confess the fatalest doubts, or rather, alas, I have no doubt! Alas, it is our fatalest misery just now, not easily alterable, and yet urgently requiring to be altered, That no British man can attain to be a Statesman, or Chief of Workers, till he has first proved himself a Chief of Talkers: which mode of trial for a Worker, is it not precisely, of all the trials you could set him upon, the falsest and unfairest?
Nay, I doubt much you are not likely ever to meet the fittest material for a Statesman, or Chief of Workers, in such an element as that. Your Potential Chief of Workers, will he come there at all, to try whether he can talk? Your poor tenpound franchisers and electoral world generally, in love with eloquent talk, are they the likeliest to discern what man it is that has worlds of silent work in him? No. Or is such a man, even if born in the due rank for it, the likeliest to present himself, and court their most sweet voices? Again, no.
The Age that admires talk so much can have little discernment for inarticulate work, or for anything that is deep and genuine. Nobody, or hardly anybody, having in himself an earnest sense for truth, how can anybody recognize an inarticulate Veracity, or Nature-fact of any kind; a Human Doer especially, who is the most complex, profound, and inarticulate of all Nature’s Facts? Nobody can recognize him: till once he is patented, get some public stamp of authenticity, and has been articulately proclaimed, and asserted to be a Doer. To the worshipper of talk, such a one is a sealed book. An excellent human soul, direct from Heaven, — how shall any excellence of man become recognizable to this unfortunate? Not except by announcing and placarding itself as excellent, — which, I reckon, it above other things will probably be in no great haste to do.
Wisdom, the divine message which every soul of man brings into this world; the divine prophecy of what the new man has got the new and peculiar capability to do, is intrinsically of silent nature. It cannot at once, or completely at all, be read off in words; for it is written in abstruse facts, of endowment, position, desire, opportunity, granted to the man; — interprets itself in presentiments, vague struggles, passionate endeavors and is only legible in whole when his work is done. Not by the noble monitions of Nature, but by the ignoble, is a man much tempted to publish the secret of his soul in words. Words, if he have a secret, will be forever inadequate to it. Words do but disturb the real answer of fact which could be given to it; disturb, obstruct, and will in the end abolish, and render impossible, said answer. No grand Doer in this world can be a copious speaker about his doings. William the Silent spoke himself best in a country liberated; Oliver Cromwell did not shine in rhetoric; Goethe, when he had but a book in view, found that he must say nothing even of that, if it was to succeed with him.
Then as to politeness, and breeding to business. An official man must be bred to business; of course he must: and not for essence only, but even for the manners of office he requires breeding. Besides his intrinsic faculty, whatever that may be, he must be cautious, vigilant, discreet, — above all things, he must be reticent, patient, polite. Certain of these qualities are by nature imposed upon men of station; and they are trained from birth to some exercise of them: this constitutes their one intrinsic qualification for office; — this is their one advantage in the New Downing Street projected for this New Era; and it will not go for much in that Institution. One advantage, or temporary advantage; against which there are so many counterbalances. It is the indispensable preliminary for office, but by no means the complete outfit, — a miserable outfit where there is nothing farther.
Will your Lordship give me leave to say that, practically, the intrinsic qualities will presuppose these preliminaries too, but by no means vice versa. That, on the whole, if you have got the intrinsic qualities, you have got everything, and the preliminaries will prove attainable; but that if you have got only the preliminaries, you have yet got nothing. A man of real dignity will not find it impossible to bear himself in a dignified manner; a man of real understanding and insight will get to know, as the fruit of his very first study, what the laws of his situation are, and will conform to these. Rough old Samuel Johnson, blustering Boreas and rugged Arctic Bear as he often was, defined himself, justly withal, as a polite man: a noble manful attitude of soul is his; a clear, true and loyal sense of what others are, and what he himself is, shines through the rugged coating of him; comes out as grave deep rhythmus when his King honors him, and he will not “bandy compliments with his King;" — is traceable too in his indignant trampling down of the Chesterfield patronages, tailor-made insolences, and contradictions of sinners; which may be called his revolutionary movements, hard and peremptory by the law of them; these could not be soft like his constitutional ones, when men and kings took him for somewhat like the thing he was. Given a noble man, I think your Lordship may expect by and by a polite man. No “politer” man was to be found in Britain than the rustic Robert Burns: high duchesses were captivated with the chivalrous ways of the man; recognized that here was the true chivalry, and divine nobleness of bearing, — as indeed they well might, now when the Peasant God and Norse Thor had come down among them again! Chivalry this, if not as they do chivalry in Drury Lane or West–End drawing-rooms, yet as they do it in Valhalla and the General Assembly of the Gods.
For indeed, who invented chivalry, politeness, or anything that is noble and melodious and beautiful among us, except precisely the like of Johnson and of Burns? The select few who in the generations of this world were wise and valiant, they, in spite of all the tremendous majority of blockheads and slothful belly-worshippers, and noisy ugly persons, have devised whatsoever is noble in the manners of man to man. I expect they will learn to be polite, your Lordship, when you give them a chance! — Nor is it as a school of human culture, for this or for any other grace or gift, that Parliament will be found first-rate or indispensable. As experience in the river is indispensable to the ferryman, so is knowledge of his Parliament to the British Peel or Chatham; — so was knowledge of the OEil-de-Boeuf to the French Choiseul. Where and how said river, whether Parliament with Wilkeses, or OEil-de-Boeuf with Pompadours, can be waded, boated, swum; how the miscellaneous cargoes, “measures” so called, can be got across it, according to their kinds, and landed alive on the hither side as facts:— we have all of us our ferries in this world; and must know the river and its ways, or get drowned some day! In that sense, practice in Parliament is indispensable to the British Statesman; but not in any other sense.
A school, too, of manners and of several other things, the Parliament will doubtless be to the aspirant Statesman; a school better or worse; — as the OEil-de-Boeuf likewise was, and as all scenes where men work or live are sure to be. Especially where many men work together, the very rubbing against one another will grind and polish off their angularities into roundness, into “politeness” after a sort; and the official man, place him how you may, will never want for schooling, of extremely various kinds. A first-rate school one cannot call this Parliament for him; — I fear to say what rate at present! In so far as it teaches him vigilance, patience, courage, toughness of lungs or of soul, and skill in any kind of swimming, it is a good school. In so far as it forces him to speak where Nature orders silence; and even, lest all the world should learn his secret (which often enough would kill his secret, and little profit the world), forces him to speak falsities, vague ambiguities, and the froth-dialect usual in Parliaments in these times, it may be considered one of the worst schools ever devised by man; and, I think, may almost challenge the OEil-de-Boeuf to match it in badness.
Parliament will train your men to the manners required of a statesman; but in a much less degree to the intrinsic functions of one. To these latter, it is capable of mistraining as nothing else can. Parliament will train you to talk; and above all things to hear, with patience, unlimited quantities of foolish talk. To tell a good story for yourself, and to make it appear that you have done your work: this, especially in constitutional countries, is something; — and yet in all countries, constitutional ones too, it is intrinsically nothing, probably even less. For it is not the function of any mortal, in Downing Street or elsewhere here below, to wag the tongue of him, and make it appear that he has done work; but to wag some quite other organs of him, and to do work; there is no danger of his work’s appearing by and by. Such an accomplishment, even in constitutional countries, I grieve to say, may become much less than nothing. Have you at all computed how much less? The human creature who has once given way to satisfying himself with “appearances,” to seeking his salvation in “appearances,” the moral life of such human creature is rapidly bleeding out of him. Depend upon it, Beelzebub, Satan, or however you may name the too authentic Genius of Eternal Death, has got that human creature in his claws. By and by you will have a dead parliamentary bagpipe, and your living man fled away without return!
Such parliamentary bagpipes I myself have heard play tunes, much to the satisfaction of the people. Every tune lies within their compass; and their mind (for they still call it mind) is ready as a hurdy-gurdy on turning of the handle: “My Lords, this question now before the House” — Ye Heavens, O ye divine Silences, was there in the womb of Chaos, then, such a product, liable to be evoked by human art, as that same? While the galleries were all applausive of heart, and the Fourth Estate looked with eyes enlightened, as if you had touched its lips with a staff dipped in honey, — I have sat with reflections too ghastly to be uttered. A poor human creature and learned friend, once possessed of many fine gifts, possessed of intellect, veracity, and manful conviction on a variety of objects, has he now lost all that; — converted all that into a glistering phosphorescence which can show itself on the outside; while within, all is dead, chaotic, dark; a painted sepulchre full of dead-men’s bones! Discernment, knowledge, intellect, in the human sense of the words, this man has now none. His opinion you do not ask on any matter: on the matter he has no opinion, judgment, or insight; only on what may be said about the matter, how it may be argued of, what tune may be played upon it to enlighten the eyes of the Fourth Estate.
Such a soul, though to the eye he still keeps tumbling about in the Parliamentary element, and makes “motions,” and passes bills, for aught I know, — are we to define him as a living one, or as a dead? Partridge the Almanac–Maker, whose “Publications” still regularly appear, is known to be dead! The dog that was drowned last summer, and that floats up and down the Thames with ebb and flood ever since, — is it not dead? Alas, in the hot months, you meet here and there such a floating dog; and at length, if you often use the river steamers, get to know him by sight. “There he is again, still astir there in his quasi-stygian element!” you dejectedly exclaim (perhaps reading your Morning Newspaper at the moment); and reflect, with a painful oppression of nose and imagination, on certain completed professors of parliamentary eloquence in modern times. Dead long since, but not resting; daily doing motions in that Westminster region still, — daily from Vauxhall to Blackfriars, and back again; and cannot get away at all! Daily (from Newspaper or river steamer) you may see him at some point of his fated course, hovering in the eddies, stranded in the ooze, or rapidly progressing with flood or ebb; and daily the odor of him is getting more intolerable: daily the condition of him appeals more tragically to gods and men.
Nature admits no lie; most men profess to be aware of this, but few in any measure lay it to heart. Except in the departments of mere material manipulation, it seems to be taken practically as if this grand truth were merely a polite flourish of rhetoric. What is a lie? The question is worth asking, once and away, by the practical English mind.
A voluntary spoken divergence from the fact as it stands, as it has occurred and will proceed to develop itself: this clearly, if adopted by any man, will so far forth mislead him in all practical dealing with the fact; till he cast that statement out of him, and reject it as an unclean poisonous thing, he can have no success in dealing with the fact. If such spoken divergence from the truth be involuntary, we lament it as a misfortune; and are entitled, at least the speaker of it is, to lament it extremely as the most palpable of all misfortunes, as the indubitablest losing of his way, and turning aside from the goal instead of pressing towards it, in the race set before him. If the divergence is voluntary, — there superadds itself to our sorrow a just indignation: we call the voluntary spoken divergence a lie, and justly abhor it as the essence of human treason and baseness, the desertion of a man to the Enemy of men against himself and his brethren. A lost deserter; who has gone over to the Enemy, called Satan; and cannot but be lost in the adventure! Such is every liar with the tongue; and such in all nations is he, at all epochs, considered. Men pull his nose, and kick him out of doors; and by peremptory expressive methods signify that they can and will have no trade with him. Such is spoken divergence from the fact; so fares it with the practiser of that sad art.
But have we well considered a divergence in thought from what is the fact? Have we considered the man whose very thought is a lie to him and to us! He too is a frightful man; repeating about this Universe on every hand what is not, and driven to repeat it; the sure herald of ruin to all that follow him, that know with his knowledge! And would you learn how to get a mendacious thought, there is no surer recipe than carrying a loose tongue. The lying thought, you already either have it, or will soon get it by that method. He who lies with his very tongue, he clearly enough has long ceased to think truly in his mind. Does he, in any sense, “think”? All his thoughts and imaginations, if they extend beyond mere beaverisms, astucities and sensualisms, are false, incomplete, perverse, untrue even to himself. He has become a false mirror of this Universe; not a small mirror only, but a crooked, bedimmed and utterly deranged one. But all loose tongues too are akin to lying ones; are insincere at the best, and go rattling with little meaning; the thought lying languid at a great distance behind them, if thought there be behind them at all. Gradually there will be none or little! How can the thought of such a man, what he calls thought, be other than false?
Alas, the palpable liar with his tongue does at least know that he is lying, and has or might have some faint vestige of remorse and chance of amendment; but the impalpable liar, whose tongue articulates mere accepted commonplaces, cants and babblement, which means only, “Admire me, call me an excellent stump-orator!” — of him what hope is there? His thought, what thought he had, lies dormant, inspired only to invent vocables and plausibilities; while the tongue goes so glib, the thought is absent, gone a wool-gathering; getting itself drugged with the applausive “Hear, hear!” — what will become of such a man? His idle thought has run all to seed, and grown false and the giver of falsities; the inner light of his mind is gone out; all his light is mere putridity and phosphorescence henceforth. Whosoever is in quest of ruin, let him with assurance follow that man; he or no one is on the right road to it.
Good Heavens, from the wisest Thought of a man to the actual truth of a Thing as it lies in Nature, there is, one would suppose, a sufficient interval! Consider it, — and what other intervals we introduce! The faithfulest, most glowing word of a man is but an imperfect image of the thought, such as it is, that dwells within him; his best word will never but with error convey his thought to other minds: and then between his poor thought and Nature’s Fact, which is the Thought of the Eternal, there may be supposed to lie some discrepancies, some shortcomings! Speak your sincerest, think your wisest, there is still a great gulf between you and the fact. And now, do not speak your sincerest, and what will inevitably follow out of that, do not think your wisest, but think only your plausiblest, your showiest for parliamentary purposes, where will you land with that guidance? — I invite the British Parliament, and all the Parliamentary and other Electors of Great Britain, to reflect on this till they have well understood it; and then to ask, each of himself, What probably the horoscopes of the British Parliament, at this epoch of World–History, may be? —
Fail, by any sin or any misfortune, to discover what the truth of the fact is, you are lost so far as that fact goes! If your thought do not image truly but do image falsely the fact, you will vainly try to work upon the fact. The fact will not obey you, the fact will silently resist you; and ever, with silent invincibility, will go on resisting you, till you do get to image it truly instead of falsely. No help for you whatever, except in attaining to a true image of the fact. Needless to vote a false image true; vote it, revote it by overwhelming majorities, by jubilant unanimities and universalities; read it thrice or three hundred times, pass acts of parliament upon it till the Statute-book can hold no more, — it helps not a whit: the thing is not so, the thing is otherwise than so; and Adam’s whole Posterity, voting daily on it till the world finish, will not alter it a jot. Can the sublimest sanhedrim, constitutional parliament, or other Collective Wisdom of the world, persuade fire not to burn, sulphuric acid to be sweet milk, or the Moon to become green cheese? The fact is much the reverse:— and even the Constitutional British Parliament abstains from such arduous attempts as these latter in the voting line; and leaves the multiplication-table, the chemical, mechanical and other qualities of material substances to take their own course; being aware that voting and perorating, and reporting in Hansard, will not in the least alter any of these. Which is indisputably wise of the British Parliament.
Unfortunately the British Parliament does not, at present, quite know that all manner of things and relations of things, spiritual equally with material, all manner of qualities, entities, existences whatsoever, in this strange visible and invisible Universe, are equally inflexible of nature; that, they will, one and all, with precisely the same obstinacy, continue to obey their own law, not our law; deaf as the adder to all charm of parliamentary eloquence, and of voting never so often repeated; silently, but inflexibly and forevermore, declining to change themselves, even as sulphuric acid declines to become sweet milk, though you vote so to the end of the world. This, it sometimes seems to me, is not quite sufficiently laid hold of by the British and other Parliaments just at present. Which surely is a great misfortune to said Parliaments! For, it would appear, the grand point, after all constitutional improvements, and such wagging of wigs in Westminster as there has been, is precisely what it was before any constitution was yet heard of, or the first official wig had budded out of nothing: namely, to ascertain what the truth of your question, in Nature, really is! Verily so. In this time and place, as in all past and in all future times and places. To-day in St. Stephen’s, where constitutional, philanthropical, and other great things lie in the mortar-kit; even as on the Plain of Shinar long ago, where a certain Tower, likewise of a very philanthropic nature, indeed one of the desirablest towers I ever heard of, was to be built, — but couldn’t! My friends, I do not laugh; truly I am more inclined to weep.
Get, by six hundred and fifty-eight votes, or by no vote at all, by the silent intimation of your own eyesight and understanding given you direct out of Heaven, and more sacred to you than anything earthly, and than all things earthly, — a correct image of the fact in question, as God and Nature have made it: that is the one thing needful; with that it shall be well with you in whatsoever you have to do with said fact. Get, by the sublimest constitutional methods, belauded by all the world, an incorrect image of the fact: so shall it be other than well with you; so shall you have laud from able editors and vociferous masses of mistaken human creatures; and from the Nature’s Fact, continuing quite silently the same as it was, contradiction, and that only. What else? Will Nature change, or sulphuric acid become sweet milk, for the noise of vociferous blockheads? Surely not. Nature, I assure you, has not the smallest intention of doing so.
On the contrary, Nature keeps silently a most exact Savings-bank, and official register correct to the most evanescent item, Debtor and Creditor, in respect to one and all of us; silently marks down, Creditor by such and such an unseen act of veracity and heroism; Debtor to such a loud blustery blunder, twenty-seven million strong or one unit strong, and to all acts and words and thoughts executed in consequence of that, — Debtor, Debtor, Debtor, day after day, rigorously as Fate (for this is Fate that is writing); and at the end of the account you will have it all to pay, my friend; there is the rub! Not the infinitesimalest fraction of a farthing but will be found marked there, for you and against you; and with the due rate of interest you will have to pay it, neatly, completely, as sure as you are alive. You will have to pay it even in money if you live:— and, poor slave, do you think there is no payment but in money? There is a payment which Nature rigorously exacts of men, and also of Nations, and this I think when her wrath is sternest, in the shape of dooming you to possess money. To possess it; to have your bloated vanities fostered into monstrosity by it, your foul passions blown into explosion by it, your heart and perhaps your very stomach ruined with intoxication by it; your poor life and all its manful activities stunned into frenzy and comatose sleep by it, — in one word, as the old Prophets said, your soul forever lost by it. Your soul; so that, through the Eternities, you shall have no soul, or manful trace of ever having had a soul; but only, for certain fleeting moments, shall have had a money-bag, and have given soul and heart and (frightfuler still) stomach itself in fatal exchange for the same. You wretched mortal, stumbling about in a God’s Temple, and thinking it a brutal Cookery-shop! Nature, when her scorn of a slave is divinest, and blazes like the blinding lightning against his slavehood, often enough flings him a bag of money, silently saying: “That! Away; thy doom is that!” —
For no man, and for no body or biggest multitude of men, has Nature favor, if they part company with her facts and her. Excellent stump-orator; eloquent parliamentary dead-dog, making motions, passing bills; reported in the Morning Newspapers, and reputed the “best speaker going”? From the Universe of Fact he has turned himself away; he is gone into partnership with the Universe of Phantasm; finds it profitablest to deal in forged notes, while the foolish shopkeepers will accept them. Nature for such a man, and for Nations that follow such, has her patibulary forks, and prisons of death everlasting:— dost thou doubt it? Unhappy mortal, Nature otherwise were herself a Chaos and no Cosmos. Nature was not made by an Impostor; not she, I think, rife as they are! — In fact, by money or otherwise, to the uttermost fraction of a calculable and incalculable value, we have, each one of us, to settle the exact balance in the above-said Savings-bank, or official register kept by Nature: Creditor by the quantity of veracities we have done, Debtor by the quantity of falsities and errors; there is not, by any conceivable device, the faintest hope of escape from that issue for one of us, nor for all of us.
This used to be a well-known fact; and daily still, in certain edifices, steeple-houses, joss-houses, temples sacred or other, everywhere spread over the world, we hear some dim mumblement of an assertion that such is still, what it was always and will forever be, the fact: but meseems it has terribly fallen out of memory nevertheless; and, from Dan to Beersheba, one in vain looks out for a man that really in his heart believes it. In his heart he believes, as we perceive, that scrip will yield dividends: but that Heaven too has an office of account, and unerringly marks down, against us or for us, whatsoever thing we do or say or think, and treasures up the same in regard to every creature, — this I do not so well perceive that he believes. Poor blockhead, no: he reckons that all payment is in money, or approximately representable by money; finds money go a strange course; disbelieves the parson and his Day of Judgment; discerns not that there is any judgment except in the small or big debt court; and lives (for the present) on that strange footing in this Universe. The unhappy mortal, what is the use of his “civilizations” and his “useful knowledges,” if he have forgotten that beginning of human knowledge; the earliest perception of the awakened human soul in this world; the first dictate of Heaven’s inspiration to all men? I cannot account him a man any more; but only a kind of human beaver, who has acquired the art of ciphering. He lives without rushing hourly towards suicide, because his soul, with all its noble aspirations and imaginations, is sunk at the bottom of his stomach, and lies torpid there, unaspiring, unimagining, unconsidering, as if it were the vital principle of a mere four-footed beaver. A soul of a man, appointed for spinning cotton and making money, or, alas, for merely shooting grouse and gathering rent; to whom Eternity and Immortality, and all human Noblenesses and divine Facts that did not tell upon the stock-exchange, were meaningless fables, empty as the inarticulate wind. He will recover out of that persuasion one day, or be ground to powder, I believe! —
To such a pass, by our beaverisms and our mammonisms; by canting of “prevenient grace” everywhere, and so boarding and lodging our poor souls upon supervenient moonshine everywhere, for centuries long; by our sordid stupidities and our idle babblings; through faith in the divine Stump-orator, and Constitutional Palaver, or august Sanhedrim of Orators, — have men and Nations been reduced, in this sad epoch! I cannot call them happy Nations; I must call them Nations like to perish; Nations that will either begin to recover, or else soon die. Recovery is to be hoped; — yes, since there is in Nature an Almighty Beneficence, and His voice, divinely terrible, can be heard in the world-whirlwind now, even as from of old and forevermore. Recovery, or else destruction and annihilation, is very certain; and the crisis, too, comes rapidly on: but by Stump–Orator and Constitutional Palaver, however perfected, my hopes of recovery have long vanished. Not by them, I should imagine, but by something far the reverse of them, shall we return to truth and God! —
I tell you, the ignoble intellect cannot think the truth, even within its own limits, and when it seriously tries! And of the ignoble intellect that does not seriously try, and has even reached the “ignobleness” of seriously trying the reverse, and of lying with its very tongue, what are we to expect? It is frightful to consider. Sincere wise speech is but an imperfect corollary, and insignificant outer manifestation, of sincere wise thought. He whose very tongue utters falsities, what has his heart long been doing? The thought of his heart is not its wisest, not even its wisest; it is its foolishest; — and even of that we have a false and foolish copy. And it is Nature’s Fact, or the Thought of the Eternal, which we want to arrive at in regard to the matter, — which if we do not arrive at, we shall not save the matter, we shall drive the matter into shipwreck!
The practice of modern Parliaments, with reporters sitting among them, and twenty-seven millions mostly fools listening to them, fills me with amazement. In regard to no thing, or fact as God and Nature have made it, can you get so much as the real thought of any honorable head, — even so far as it, the said honorable head, still has capacity of thought. What the honorable gentleman’s wisest thought is or would have been, had he led from birth a life of piety and earnest veracity and heroic virtue, you, and he himself poor deep-sunk creature, vainly conjecture as from immense dim distances far in the rear of what he is led to say. And again, far in the rear of what his thought is, — surely long infinitudes beyond all he could ever think, — lies the Thought of God Almighty, the Image itself of the Fact, the thing you are in quest of, and must find or do worse! Even his, the honorable gentleman’s, actual bewildered, falsified, vague surmise or quasi-thought, even this is not given you; but only some falsified copy of this, such as he fancies may suit the reporters and twenty-seven millions mostly fools. And upon that latter you are to act; — with what success, do you expect? That is the thought you are to take for the Thought of the Eternal Mind, — that double-distilled falsity of a blockheadism from one who is false even as a blockhead!
Do I make myself plain to Mr. Peter’s understanding? Perhaps it will surprise him less that parliamentary eloquence excites more wonder than admiration in me; that the fate of countries governed by that sublime alchemy does not appear the hopefulest just now. Not by that method, I should apprehend, will the Heavens be scaled and the Earth vanquished; not by that, but by another.
A benevolent man once proposed to me, but without pointing out the methods how, this plan of reform for our benighted world: To cut from one generation, whether the current one or the next, all the tongues away, prohibiting Literature too; and appoint at least one generation to pass its life in silence. “There, thou one blessed generation, from the vain jargon of babble thou art beneficently freed. Whatsoever of truth, traditionary or original, thy own god-given intellect shall point out to thee as true, that thou wilt go and do. In doing of it there will be a verdict for thee; if a verdict of True, thou wilt hold by it, and ever again do it; if of Untrue, thou wilt never try it more, but be eternally delivered from it. To do aught because the vain hearsays order thee, and the big clamors of the sanhedrim of fools, is not thy lot, — what worlds of misery are spared thee! Nature’s voice heard in thy own inner being, and the sacred Commandment of thy Maker: these shall be thy guidances, thou happy tongueless generation. What is good and beautiful thou shalt know; not merely what is said to be so. Not to talk of thy doings, and become the envy of surrounding flunkies, but to taste of the fruit of thy doings themselves, is thine. What the Eternal Laws will sanction for thee, do; what the Froth Gospels and multitudinous long-eared Hearsays never so loudly bid, all this is already chaff for thee, — drifting rapidly along, thou knowest whitherward, on the eternal winds.”
Good Heavens, if such a plan were practicable, how the chaff might be winnowed out of every man, and out of all human things; and ninety-nine hundredths of our whole big Universe, spiritual and practical, might blow itself away, as mere torrents of chaff whole trade-winds of chaff, many miles deep, rushing continually with the voice of whirlwinds towards a certain FIRE, which knows how to deal with it! Ninety-nine hundredths blown away; all the lies blown away, and some skeleton of a spiritual and practical Universe left standing for us which were true: O Heavens, is it forever impossible, then? By a generation that had no tongue it really might be done; but not so easily by one that had. Tongues, platforms, parliaments, and fourth-estates; unfettered presses, periodical and stationary literatures: we are nearly all gone to tongue, I think; and our fate is very questionable.
Truly, it is little known at present, and ought forthwith to become better known, what ruin to all nobleness and fruitfulness and blessedness in the genius of a poor mortal you generally bring about, by ordering him to speak, to do all things with a view to their being seen! Few good and fruitful things ever were done, or could be done, on those terms. Silence, silence; and be distant ye profane, with your jargonings and superficial babblements, when a man has anything to do! Eye-service, — dost thou know what that is, poor England? — eye-service is all the man can do in these sad circumstances; grows to be all he has the idea of doing, of his or any other man’s ever doing, or ever having done, in any circumstances. Sad, enough. Alas, it is our saddest woe of all; — too sad for being spoken of at present, while all or nearly all men consider it an imaginary sorrow on my part!
Let the young English soul, in whatever logic-shop and nonsense-verse establishment of an Eton, Oxford, Edinburgh, Halle, Salamanca, or other High Finishing–School, he may be getting his young idea taught how to speak and spout, and print sermons and review-articles, and thereby show himself and fond patrons that it is an idea, — lay this solemnly to heart; this is my deepest counsel to him! The idea you have once spoken, if it even were an idea, is no longer yours; it is gone from you, so much life and virtue is gone, and the vital circulations of your self and your destiny and activity are henceforth deprived of it. If you could not get it spoken, if you could still constrain it into silence, so much the richer are you. Better keep your idea while you can: let it still circulate in your blood, and there fructify; inarticulately inciting you to good activities; giving to your whole spiritual life a ruddier health. When the time does come for speaking it, you will speak it all the more concisely, the more expressively, appropriately; and if such a time should never come, have you not already acted it, and uttered it as no words can? Think of this, my young friend; for there is nothing truer, nothing more forgotten in these shabby gold-laced days. Incontinence is half of all the sins of man. And among the many kinds of that base vice, I know none baser, or at present half so fell and fatal, as that same Incontinence of Tongue. “Public speaking,” “parliamentary eloquence:” it is a Moloch, before whom young souls are made to pass through the fire. They enter, weeping or rejoicing, fond parents consecrating them to the red-hot Idol, as to the Highest God: and they come out spiritually dead. Dead enough; to live thenceforth a galvanic life of mere Stump–Oratory; screeching and gibbering, words without wisdom, without veracity, without conviction more than skin-deep. A divine gift, that? It is a thing admired by the vulgar, and rewarded with seats in the Cabinet and other preciosities; but to the wise, it is a thing not admirable, not adorable; unmelodious rather, and ghastly and bodeful, as the speech of sheeted spectres in the streets at midnight!
Be not a Public Orator, thou brave young British man, thou that art now growing to be something: not a Stump–Orator, if thou canst help it. Appeal not to the vulgar, with its long ears and its seats in the Cabinet; not by spoken words to the vulgar; hate the profane vulgar, and bid it begone. Appeal by silent work, by silent suffering if there be no work, to the gods, who have nobler than seats in the Cabinet for thee! Talent for Literature, thou hast such a talent? Believe it not, be slow to believe it! To speak, or to write, Nature did not peremptorily order thee; but to work she did. And know this: there never was a talent even for real Literature, not to speak of talents lost and damned in doing sham Literature, but was primarily a talent for something infinitely better of the silent kind. Of Literature, in all ways, be shy rather than otherwise, at present! There where thou art, work, work; whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it, — with the hand of a man, not of a phantasm; be that thy unnoticed blessedness and exceeding great reward. Thy words, let them be few, and well-ordered. Love silence rather than speech in these tragic days, when, for very speaking, the voice of man has fallen inarticulate to man; and hearts, in this loud babbling, sit dark and dumb towards one another. Witty, — above all, oh be not witty: none of us is bound to be witty, under penalties; to be wise and true we all are, under the terriblest penalties!
Brave young friend, dear to me, and known too in a sense, though never seen, nor to be seen by me, — you are, what I am not, in the happy case to learn to be something and to do something, instead of eloquently talking about what has been and was done and may be! The old are what they are, and will not alter; our hope is in you. England’s hope, and the world’s, is that there may once more be millions such, instead of units as now. Macte; i fausto pede. And may future generations, acquainted again with the silences, and once more cognizant of what is noble and faithful and divine, look back on us with pity and incredulous astonishment!
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Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:49