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owe a debt we can only try to pay by devotion to the country that we enjoy and which they saved.
The modes of working for the public are many. The first which suggests itself is literature, but there, as everywhere else, the essential preliminary is to learn to work practically. No man ought to begin by publishing at his own expense. It is far better to try at the doors of the newspapers, the magazines, or the publishers, until you can command a market for your writings, for the only sure way to make a writer that I know is to have him enter the field of competition. When he can hold his own with other men, then it will be time to publish, if he chooses, at his own expense, work of value to the world, but which the world could get in no other way.
There is a still larger opportunity in the directions of public education and public charities. In all these there is a vast and growing demand for intelligent work, and for the most part it is only possible to men who can command their own time. A man can win wide reputation in these departments, and render incalculable service to his fellow men.
It only remains now to speak of politics. Let every man give of his leisure, be it more or less, to politics; for it is simply good citizenship to do so. Discard at the outset the wretched habit which is far too prevalent in this country, and particularly, I am sorry to say, among highly educated persons, of regarding all men who are much in politics with suspicion, and of using the word “politician as an uncomplimentary epithet, and usually with a sneer. You neither help nor hurt the politician by so doing, but you hurt your country and lower her reputation. There is nothing, indeed, which does more to injure politics and the public business than to assume that a man who enters them is in some way lowered by so doing. The calling ought to be and is an honorable one, and we should all seek to honor and elevate, not to decry it. Politics is a wide field, but it is a very practical one, and the amateur is not only singularly out of place there, but is especially apt to do harm by mistaken efforts to do good. Take hold of politics as you would of any other business, honorably and respectably, but take hold hard. Go to the polls, for example, and work for the man whom you want
to see elected, and get your friends to do the same. If you prefer to reach political questions by voice or pen, do it in these ways, but let me suggest that you first inform yourself about politics and politicians, for politics and public questions are exceedingly difficult, and educated men are sometimes as marvelously ignorant upon these subjects as they are ready in judgment and condemnation concerning them.
There is only one other point that I will touch upon as to politics. Work for the highest and best measures always. When the question is between right and wrong, work for what you believe to be right without yielding a jot. In such questions no compromise is possible. Fortunately for us, however, great moral questions like slavery are extremely rare in politics. Most public questions, grave and important as many of them are, are not moral questions at all, and form no part of the everlasting conflict between good and evil, between right and wrong. Do not fall into the cant of treating public questions as moral questions when they are not so. There is a temptation to a certain class of minds to do this, because, the morality of the question being granted and they being in the right themselves, it is then possible to look down upon their opponents and call their enemies wicked. This is cant of the worst kind. All cant and hypocrisy are mean and noxious, and none more so than the political varieties.
Stand for the right, then, against the wrong always, but where there is no moral question involved do not, by insisting on the unattainable, lose everything. Because, for example, the civil service act of 1883 falls far short of perfection and completeness, should we therefore reject it? That would be folly. Let us take it as a first great step toward our goal of removing routine offices from politics. The political history of the English-speaking race is in truth a history of legislative compromises. When compromises have not been made with wrong, they have been the stepping-stones in the great march of our civilization. They mark the line between the people who are ever moving forward to higher things and those who, insisting on the highest at once, never advance, but stand shrieking with helpless confusion, always in one place.
I have touched very cursorily and unsatisfactorily on
some of the fields of public usefulness open to men whose time is at their own disposal, and open in some measure to others as well. In conclusion, I want to say a word on two points which seem to me of great importance, and which apply to all alike. Be in sympathy with your age and country. It is easier to get out of sympathy with the movements of the time than think. What every man must work with and understand are the forces about him. If he does not, his usefulness is crippled. To be out of sympathy with your country and with American ideas is a grievous fault, to be shunned at all hazards. If a man fails to respect himself no one will respect him, and if he does not love and honor his country he will deserve nothing but contempt. The most utterly despicable of all things is the Anglomania which prevails in certain quarters. It should be impossible here, for no men who have been brought up beneath the shadows of Memorial Hall, and who have felt the influence that descends from its silent tablets, ought to be anything but ardent Americans. All I would say is, make your Americanism and your patriotism living and active forces in your daily life.
The other point which I wish to make is in regard to a danger which I think is in some measure peculiar to Harvard. I mean the tendency to be merely negative and critical. This arises, in part at least, from a dread of becoming ridiculous by over-enthusiasm, and from the feeling that it is “in better form ”to be exceedingly quiet and reticent. But it will not do to confine one's self in life to the purely critical attitude, for it leads to nothing. It may be able to destroy, it can never create. It frequently makes a man sour, envious, and spiteful; it never makes him helpful, generous, brave, and the doer of great deeds. Moreover, if a man contents himself with criticism and negation, he is likely to become not only narrow and arrogant, but ineffective. To be well balanced and efficient we must see the good as well as the evil in both men and things. It is comparatively easy to stand by and criticise the men who are struggling, for instance, in the stream of politics, but a far better thing is to plunge in yourself and try to do something, and to bring some definite thing to pass.
If you attain to nothing more you will at least be a wiser and better critic, and therefore far
more weighty and influential, because more sympathetic and more intelligent.
Let me illustrate once more, by an example, what I mean by positiveness and enthusiasm and by disregard of self and of the weak dread of being ridiculous. You have all, no doubt, read the novels and sketches of Mr. Cable. You know that he is one of the most charming of our younger writers. Mr. Cable has lately turned aside to enter another field, and to do what in him lies to right what he believed to be a wrong. I suppose that every one who listens to me has read the two essays entitled “The Freedman's Case in Equity” and “The Silent South.” The modest volume which contains them is, I believe, an epoch-making book. Not now, perhaps, but in the days that are yet to be. These essays are written of course admirably, with literary skill and great force. The words, however, are not so much; the great fact is the man who uttered them. It is the act that will live, and which is destined to mark a stage in our national development. Mr. Cable is the grandson and son of a slaveholder. He was a soldier in the Confederate army. He is a Southerner through and through, with all the traditions and prejudices of the South. He saw before him a despised race just released from slavery; he saw that the condition of that race presented a mighty problem, vital to the welfare of a large part of our common country. He believed that this problem was one which legislation could not reach, but which public opinion in the South could alone deal with. He studied the question, and came to the conclusion that the treatment of the negro was neither right nor honest. How easy it was to remain silent! He had everything to gain and nothing to lose by silence, and he thereupon spoke out. He faced hostility, ostracism almost, at the South, and indifference at the North. He was assailed, abused, and sneered at, but he has never been answered, and he never will be answered until he obtains from the tribunal to which he appealed,- from Southern opinion itself, the inevitable verdict that he is right and that the wrong shall be redressed.
It was a great and noble act. It was positive and not negative. Mr. Cable will be remembered for those essays while we have a history, and long after the very names
of those who stood coldly by and criticised him have been forgotten.
It is by such men that the work of the world is done, and every man can do his part, be it great or small, if he rests on the same everlasting principle. The terrors, the mistakes, the failures, the ridicule, will be forgotten, but the central, animating thought, manly, robust, and generous, will survive. Be in sympathy with your time and your country. Be positive, not negative. Live the life of your time, if you would live at all. These are generalities, I know, but they mean everything to me because they define a mental and moral attitude which is essential to virility and well-doing. Let that attitude be right, and the man upon whom fortune has betsowed the gift of leisure will become, as he ought, one of the most useful and one of the busiest of men. If he is this, the rest will care for itself.
“In light things