Page images
PDF
EPUB

cave.

boast that the heathen idols have been swept away from three hundred dark islands of Polynesia, new “ idols of the cave ” stalk forth upon the world of civilized thought. We are just now much bewildered with brightness in streaks, which falls on us like the sunlight from a boy's bit of glass, and blinds our eyes instead of showing our path. Half-educated persons seize fragments of principles and snatch at half-truths. Crotchets infest the brains and hobbies career through the fields of thought. Polyphemus is after us, a burly wretch with one eye.

Better if that were out. The remedy is to correct our narrowness by a clear view of the wide expanse.

We must come out of our We must link our pursuits to those of humanity. Breadth and robustness given to the mental constitution in its early training shall go far through life to save us from partial paralysis or monstrosity.

To ensure this result, however, we must add to that fullness of material the quality of mental equipoise or mastery, the power of grasping and managing it all. A man is to possess, and not to be “possessed with,” his acquisitions. He wants an intellect decisive, incisive, and, if I might coin a word, concisive.

The power to unify and organize must go with all right acquisition. Knowledges must be changed to knowledge. It takes force to handle weight. Some men seem to know more than is healthy for them. It does not make muscle, but becomes plethoric, dropsical, adipose, or adipocere. Better to have thought more and acquired less. Frederick W. Robertson, in

his prime, wrote: “I will answer for it that there are few girls of eighteen who have not read more books than I have ;” and Mrs. Browning confessed: “I should be wiser if I had not read half as much ;” while old Hobbes of Malmesbury caustically remarked : “If I had read as much as other men, I should know as little.” It may serve as a hint to the omnivorous college student. Cardinal Mezzofanti knew, it is said, more than a hundred languages. What came of it all ? A eulogy on one Emanuele da Ponte. He never said anything in all the languages he spoke! What constitutes the life of an intellectual jellyfish? Even the brilliancy of Macaulay was almost overweighted by the immensity of his acquisitions. The vivid glitter of details in his memory may sometimes have dazzled his perception of a tout ensemble, and for principles it was his manner to cite precedents. A multitude of lesser lights have been almost smothered by superabundance of fuel. A man knows Milton almost by heart, and Shakespeare too; can quote pages of Homer, has read Chrysostom for his recreation, is full of history, runs over with statistics right and left, and withal is strong in mother wit. But the mother wit proves not strong enough, perhaps, to push forth and show itself over the ponderous débris above it, the enormousness, or, if you please, the enormity, of his knowledge.

It requires a first-class mind to carry a vast load of scientific facts. Hence the many eminent observers who have been the most illogical of reasoners.

What a contrast between Hugh Miller and his friend Francia ;

ance.

the mind of the latter, as Miller describes it, “a labyrinth without a clew, in whose recesses was a vast amount of book knowledge that never could be used, and was of no use to himself or any one else ;” the former wielding all his stores as he swung his sledge. What is wanted is the comprehensive hand, and not the prehensile tail.

Involved in such an equipoise is the decisiveness, the will force, that not only holds, but holds the bal

Common as it may be it is none the less pitiable to be just acute enough constantly to question, but not to answer

forever to raise difficulties and never to solve them. Wakeful, but the wakefulness of weakliness. Fine-strung minds are they often, acquisitive, subtle, and sensitive, able to look all around their labyrinth and see far into darkness, but not out to the light. It is by nature rather a German than an AngloSaxon habit.

It is not always fatal even there. De Wette, “the veteran doubter," rallied at the last and, like Bunyan's Feeble-mind, went over almost shouting. In this country youth often have it somewhat later than the measles and the chickenpox, and come through very well, without even a pockmark. Sometimes it becomes epidemic, and assumes a languid or typhoidal cast — not Positivism, but Agnosticism. It is rather fashionable to eulogize perplexity and doubt as a mark of strength and genius. But whatever may be the passing fashion, the collective judgment of the ages has settled it that the permanent state of mental hesitancy and indecision, in whatever sphere of thought

and action, is and must be a false condition. It indicates the scrofulous diathesis, and calls for more iron in the blood. It is a lower type of manhood. It abdicates the province of a human intelligence, which is to seek and find truth. It abrogates the moral obligation to prove all things and hold fast that which is good. It revolts from the great problem of life, which calls on us to know, and to know that we may do. Out upon this apotheosis of doubt! It is the sick man glorying in his infirmity, the beggar boasting of his intellectual rags.

The comprehensive and decisive tend naturally to the incisive. The power to take a subject by its handle and poise it on its center is perhaps the consummation of merely intellectual culture. When all its nutriment has been converted into bone and muscle and sinew and nerve, then the mind bounds to its work, lithe and strong, like a hunting leopard on its game. It was exactly the power with which our Webster handled his case, till it seemed to the farmer too simple to require a great man to argue. It was the quality that Lincoln so toiled at through his early manhood, and so admirably gained — the power of presenting things clearly to "plain people.” You may call it “the art of putting things,” but it is the art of conceiving things. It is no trick of style, but a character of thinking, and it marks the harvest time of a manly culture.

I will add to this enumeration one other quality, one without which this harvest will not ripen. I speak of mental docility and reverence. A man will have looked forth to little purpose on the universe if he does not see that even with his expanding circle of light there is an ever-enlarging circle of darkness around it. He will have compared his achievements with those of the race to little profit, if he does not recognize his relative insignificance, gathering sands on the ocean shore.

The wide range and rapid outburst of modern learning tend undoubtedly to arrogance and conceit. We gleefully traverse our new strip of domain and ask, Were there ever such beings as we? Yes, doubtless there were - clearer, greater, and nobler.

- , Wisdom, skill, and strength were not born with us. All the qualities of manly thought, though with ruder implements and cruder materials, have been as conspicuously exhibited down through the ages past as in our day. The power of governing, ability in war, diplomacy in peace, subtle dialectics, clear insight, the art of conversation, persuasive and impressive speech, high art in every form, whatever constitutes the test of good manhood, has been here in full force. It would puzzle us yet to lay the stones of Baalbec, or to carve, move, and set up the great statue of Rameses. Within a generation Euclid of Alexandria was teaching geometry in Dartmouth College, and Heraclides and Aristarchus anticipated Copernicus by sixteen centuries. No man has surpassed the sculptures of Rhodes, or the paintings of the sixteenth century. The cathedral of Cologne is the offspring of forgotten brains. Such

« PreviousContinue »