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growth. No blaze of youthful brilliancy however great, no noonday brightness of mature manhood even, can compare with the sacred empyrean glow of advancing day, when an Augustine or a Jerome, a Venerable Bede or a Lanfranc, a Judson or a Hopkins, lingers on the western sky. And what a figure is Jacob before Pharaoh, Daniel before Belshazzar, and, if we but had the record, Paul the aged in the presence of Nero. The momentum of the life for good is the resultant of the force, steadiness, and continuance of the race. “ Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee the crown of life.”
IV. Another of the guaranties of such a life is unity of purpose and of work.
and of work. “This one thing I do.” One thing, though made up of many things. The governing purpose is the solvent of them all. It is a unity, but not uniformity, where a central and continuous figure runs through the long web of life.
Never was the call for such a concentration more imperative than now. “ Totus in illis absorbed in his work was a good motto even in classic times. In our day it needs to be written over every life plan in letters of light. The pages of history hold forth their cautionary signals in the careers of men who have missed their destiny by dissipation of powers, and are illuminated, as with bonfires, by bright examples of those who have achieved their ends by an almost grim determination. What is there that men have not undergone and foregone for money, fame, power, revenge, and — thank God! --for benevolence? Erasmus wandering in literary penance over Europe, Kant tied down for eighty years to Königsberg, Agassiz refusing to pause and lecture for money, Marsh declining a senatorship for his chosen work, Howard traversing the prisons of Europe and abstaining from its galleries and museums, Livingstone devoting to Africa a quarter of a century and his life — such are the men who have made their deepest mark on the world.
Not seldom it has been a selfish and reckless absorption, an immolation on the altar of strange gods, yet instructive by its ruthless force. Men have crushed out their native instincts, sacrificed their own higher nature or the wellbeing of family and friends, in the greed of gold, or fame, or power. The celebrated conduct of Palissy the potter was one long-continued outrage. Carlyle's posthumous wail over his poor darling was, even in his own sight, no atonement for long neglect. And when Charles Darwin, in the ceaseless hunt and grind of facts for a theory, confessedly extinguished every poetic instinct and all feelings of “wonder, admiration, or devotion” in the presence of “the grandest scenes," with an “atrophy of the brain” for “all higher æsthetic tastes ” — that certainly was anything but a survival of the fittest.
The demands of humanity, the obligations of relationship, the higher functions of good manhood, the claims of rest and recreation are never to be unheard. Inside of these great landmarks lies the arena of concentrated purpose.
On that arena true success is to
be won or lost. Of how many a man can we say, he would have done more had he done less! I do not refer to the waste of working hours on mere accomplishments, or even on amusements that carry no recuperative influence, — as when the making of a great lawyer or a fine scholar passes off into an expert chessplayer, or the like, - but to the more legitimate dispersion of power over a surface that makes it thin.
Had even that marvelous genius, Da Vinci, been content to demit his undoubted gifts as civil and military engineer or as architect, to say nothing of master of ceremonies and boon companion, the world might have been the richer by many a work like the Last Supper and that modeled but unwrought statue. It
was the exclusion of such wasteful ambitions by his great contemporary and rival, wide as was his remaining sphere, that has left us Moses and David, Night and Morning, the frescoes of the Sistine Chapel, and the dome of St. Peter's.
Much more must the ordinary worker, in these days of multiplicity and infinitude, learn self-mastery for the mastery of his appointed work. While the world opens vastly wider, the powers of man are no greater. With the accumulation of new material and the multiplication of appliances, it has been well said by Frederic Harrison : “We do not multiply the years of life, the days in the year, nor the hours in the day; nor do we multiply the powers of thought and endurance. We multiply our difficulties and doubts.” The problems are many, the man but one. Sidney Smith did indeed
say of a brilliant woman : “Lady Holland is not one woman, but many. Read the Riot Act, and you will see them disperse.” It was witty and gallant, and not much more hyperbolical than when Peel said: “I never forget anything I wish to remember;” and Macaulay rejoined: “I never forget anything.”
Human faculties are limited. Life is short and art is long — and longer. When launched on the ocean of life each must choose his port and hold hard his helm. One limitation indeed is imperative — that all specialism shall stand on the basis of a previous liberalism and shall never cut the bonds of friendly alliance. But thenceforth the career controls, and “this one thing we do.” The reading, the thinking, the interest, the observation, the selection, the association, the recollection of the minister, the lawyer, the physician, the journalist, the engineer, run on lines which may touch and cross but never long coincide. Each to his one thing. If to everything, to nothing. Nature herself is here one great object lesson. The tenants of the earth, the water, and the air fulfill their several functions. Coaxed or forced away, how eagerly they revert to their sphere, method, and type. You pause in some sumptuous park or garden — it may be Chatsworth
- or Kensington. On these same acres, in this same soil, air, and sunlight, see the cedar, the oak, the elm, the willow, and the maple; the rhododendron and the oleander, the pansy and the peony, the carnation, the tuberose, tulip, gladiolus, and orchid, lilies of every shape, roses of every hue, fruits of every size and flavor ; perchance the belladonna and the nightshade, and thousands of others — each surely and steadily elaborating its own several form, color, juice, flavor, and odor, and never faltering or mistaking in its work — and see here, each one his symboled life. True to our fitness, our sphere, our function. But alas for human nature,
“ Weak and irresolute is man; the purpose of to-day,
Woven with pains into his plan, to-morrow rends away.”
V. The final and crowning guaranty of a noble life is elevation of aim. “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling." It is the aim that makes the value of the shot. Is it a sparrow or an eagle ? Is it a concentration of every human energy in pursuits worthy or unworthy of the highest humanity ? The absorption of Pilgrim with his eyes on the far-off shining light, or of the man with the muck-rake looking only downward ?
There are successes in life which are failures of the life. There are pursuits in which the greatness of the skill and energy expended signalizes the folly. The brighter the powers, the sadder the misuse. No lacquer or gilding can long disguise the hollowness beneath. No doubt certain spheres and stations and their occupants are invested with an almost blinding glitter and glamor to the common eye. They spread like some comet's train over half the heavens, and prove as thin and as evanescent. A keen satirist has drawn the portrait of one who, before he was a monarch, claimed to be “the first gentleman of Europe”: “I look through