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Out of Russia the function of John Howard or of Dorothea Dix is mostly obsolete ; the prison has been renovated, the hospital and asylum regenerated. “The submerged tenth " at length is cared for. The pioneer missionary has pushed his way through the world, so that the career of a Schwartz or even of a Judson is hardly to be repeated in heathendom, or that of John Wesley in Christendom. Fifteen theses on a church door at Wittenberg would not again shake Europe nor could another Calvin arrest the world's attention with his Institutes.
Such changes in the outward conditions and relations of life have also changed the external conditions of labor and success. There is more or less perplexity in the outlook. Nor does it mitigate the individual dilemma that the general change is for the better. The great and good are on the same plane with many great and good. The great thinker is one of a thoughtful multitude, and the philanthropist is not one in a thousand, but one in tens of thousands. The homes of the poor are filled with comforts that never entered Carnarvon Castle or Holyrood. We need not pine unreservedly even for a Homer, a Dante, or a Shakespeare, for we want a Homer without the butchery, a Dante without the gruesomeness, and even a Shakespeare more completely fitted for the family circle.
We may even rejoice in the changes that have closed so many forms of activity and former avenues of success, when so many achievements for the race are finished works and individual prominence is lost in the universal elevation. Adequately to describe this silent revolution and steady equalization upward, even in our favored land, is out of the question. Intellectually and morally it is indicated by the millions on millions of money that have gone into educational institutions and by the increase of professedly religious men during the present century from one in fourteen to one in five.
It is a vast cosmic atmospheric change, But the reflex influence appears more strongly yet in other lands, as in the mother country. There nobles now find the need to be noble. No man with half the scandals that smeared the private life of the brilliant Fox could now stand forth as a parliamentary leader — as Parnell found to his cost. A queen is honored most as a good wife and mother. The royal personage who early in the century posed as "the first gentleman in Europe,” though well-nigh the most worthless man in England, if now on the throne would meet with execration; and what effect the grand tableau of the heir-apparent going the social rounds with his gambling apparatus and hushing up a gambling fraud may have on the monarchy or the succession, unless he repents and reforms, remains to be seen. Far and wide the critical transformation goes on ; merit wins and place decays. Men find their level up or down. The dukedom of Northumberland has passed from the Percys to the family of a London apothecary, the earldom of Warwick from Neville the kingmaker to Greville the wool-stapler. Meanwhile on the continent a marquis descended from the Doges sells matches in the streets of Venice; the Duc de Lernia, grandee of Spain, becomes a lawyer's clerk in Naples ; and the Duc de Santa Croce picks up cigar ends in the streets of Palermo. We have seen emperors and
queens wandering homeless and the heir of a great empire taking his own worthless life. The closing of many a showy career tells not alone of change but of progress. In these things we have no occasion to inquire why were the former days better than these ; for they were not.
Nor let us for a moment suppose that among the lost opportunities of the past was exemption from the carpings of the present. The severity of modern censure is almost mildness in comparison. About a century ago Samuel Adams was defending himself from the charge of embezzlement as a tax-collector and Eleazar Wheelock was procuring from his neighbors a certificate of his honesty and integrity. A singular diary has just turned up of a senator in Congress a century ago this very year, a man able and keen, blackening every highest character in the nation. Washington was to him “the dirty dishclout of every dirty speculation,” to whom, however, he accorded the one kindly wish “that Washington were in heaven.” The future Chief Justice Ellsworth, besides being “the most conceited man in the world," was “ready to varnish over villainy." Hamilton was “a damnable villain.” Richard Henry Lee was “the worst of men till Pierce Butler entered the Senate." John Adams is apostrophized thus: “O Adams, Adams, what a wretch art thou !" After scoring Fisher Ames, John Jay, Rufus King, Gouverneur Morris, and others he summarily concludes that “the First Congress deserved to be damned."
We have no occasion to mourn for the opportunities of former times, much less for the conditions under which they were enjoyed.
II. The opportunities that are present and open. “ As we have therefore opportunity,” says the apostle, “let us do good unto all men.” There is a marginal reading in one passage in King James' version which speaks of “a man of opportunity,” and it is marvelous to see how this very apostle proved himself that man, becoming “all things to all men." His Master even more remarkably availed himself of every possible occasion- on the mountain or the sea, at the wedding or the funeral, in the temple or the private room, at the feast or the festival, among his friends or his enemies.
When we turn to the opportunities that are present and open we enter another and a broader world, where all regrets for the former days are like the sighing of liberated captives for the bondage of Egypt. It is indeed a bondage into which we look back, growing more stringent with the narrowing vista - a restriction of sphere, a restriction of power, a restriction of liberty. Down almost to the present, history has been but the biography of the few kings, conquerors, men of place, rank, power. The tens or hundreds stood for the hundreds of millions and these stood as ciphers attached to their significants, Pharaohs, Cæsars, and the like. The ostensible history of a people was not written till this century. The gifted alone broke over the serfdom.
But a change has come. The chance once held by the brilliant and the strong and other chances then nonexistent have opened out on every side. The voice now comes to every man, Choose thy sphere; “Do thy thing.” There is work and success for the brilliant, the mediocre, and the dull. The great King delivers the five talents, the two, and the one. There is no hiding place in the earth for the one, there is scope for the five were they five hundred. For with the freedom and the power has come the boundless range, while the earth is opening up its contents, the universe unrolling its remotest pages, and the old monuments yielding up their secrets. The enterprises, activities, and philanthropies are multiplying till the calls for men, true men, are more and louder than the answers. In the vast compass and subdivision of openings and labor the time has fully come when, whatever a man's drift and gift, there is a place waiting for that man, and when, if he finds it not, he may boldly say: “Viam aut inveniam aut faciam.”
While preëminently true of this country the statement is not restricted to it ; for it was in a rude room at Newcastle-on-the-Tyne, early in this century, that two young friends who made shoemakers' lasts -- and one of them mended shoes— graduated thence, Robert Morrison to be the pioneer of missions in China and the foremost Chinese scholar of his time, and George Stephenson to be the “ father of railways ” for the world.