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place-it may be, sordid? By any such concourse the man of mere culture will, I think, feel himself repelled, not attracted. So it must be, because culture, being mainly a literary and ästhetic product, finds little in the unlettered multitude that is akin to itself. It is, after all, a dainty and divisive quality, and cannot reach to the depths of humanity. To do this takes some deeper, broader, more brotherly impulse, one which shall touch the universal ground on which men are one, not that in which they differ
their common nature, common destiny, the needs that poor and rich alike share. For this we must look elsewhere than to culture, however enlarged.
The view I have been enforcing will appear more evident if from abstract arguments we turn to the actual lives of men. Take any of the highest examples of our race, those who have made all future generations their debtors. Can we imagine any of these being content to set before themselves, merely as the end of their endeavors, such an aim as the harmonious development of human nature? A Goethe, perhaps, might: and if we take him as the highest, we will take his theory likewise. Hardly, I think, Shakespeare, if we can conceive of him as ever having set before himself consciously any formal aim. But could we imagine St. Paul doing so, or Augustine, or Luther, or such men as Pascal or Archbishop Leighton? Would such a theory truly represent the ends they lived for, the powers that actuated them, the ideal whence they drew their strength? These men changed the moral orbit of the world, but by what lever did they change it? Not by seeking their own perfection, nor even by making the progress of the race their only aim. They found a higher, more permanent world on which to plant the lever that was to move this one. They sought first the advancement of the kingdom of God and truth for its own sake, and they knew that this embraced the true good of man and every other good thing.
Indeed, of culture put in the supreme place, it has been well said that it holds forth a hope for humanity by enlightening self, and not a hope for humanity by dying to self. This last is the hope which Christianity sets before us. It teaches, what indeed human experience in the long run teaches too, that man's chief good lies in ceasing from
the individual self, that he may live in a higher personality, in whose purpose all the ends of our true personality are secure. The sayings in the Gospels to this effect will readily occur to every one. Some glimpse of the same truth had visited the mind of the speculative Greek poet four hundred years before the Christian era when he said:
Τίς οίδεν εί το ζήμ μέν έστι κατθανείν,
“Who knoweth whether life may not be death,
And death itself be life?”.
There is but one other thought I would submit to you. Those who build their chief hope for humanity on culture rather than on religion would raise men by bringing them into contact and sympathy with whatever of best and greatest the past has produced. But is not a large portion of what is best in the literature and the lives of past generations based on faith in God, and on the reality of communion with him as the first and chief good? Would this best any longer live and grow in men if you cut them off from direct access to its fountain-head, and confined them to the results which it has produced in past agesif, in fact, you made the object of the soul's contemplation not God, but past humanity? Are we of these latter days to be content with the results of the communion of others, and not have direct access to it ourselves—to read and admire the high thoughts of à Kempis, Pascal, Leighton, and such men, and not to go on and drink for ourselves from the same living well-heads from which they drank? Not now, any more than in past ages, can the most be made of human character, even in this life, till we ascend above humanity
“Unless above himself he can Erect himself, how poor a thing is man!”
I cannot close without expressing a feeling which I dare say has been present to the minds of many here, as throughout this discourse they listened to the oft-repeated word perfection. Perfection! the very word seems like mockery when applied to such as we.
For how poor a
thing must any perfection be that is reached this side the grave! Far truer is that word of St. Augustine—“ That is the true perfection of a man to find out his own imperfection.” Yes, the highest perfection any one will attain in this life is to be ever increasingly sensible how imperfect he is. As perfection is put forward in the theory I have been examining, one cannot but feel that there is a very inadequate notion of the evil in the human heart that is to be cured, and of the nature of the powers that are needed to cope with it. And in this respect we cannot but be struck with how greatly Christianity differs from culture, and differs only to surpass it; its estimate of the disease is so much deeper, and the remedy to which it turns so far transcends all human nostrums. Christianity, too, holds out perfection as the goal. But in doing so its view is not confined to time, but contemplates an endless progression in far-on ages. The perfection the Culturists speak of, if it does not wholly exclude the other life, seems to fix the eye mainly on what can be done here, and not to take much account of what is beyond. That was a higher and truer idea of perfection which Leighton had: “It is a union with a Higher Good by love, that alone is endless perfection. The only sufficient object for man must be something that adds to and perfects his nature, to which he must be united in love; somewhat higher than himself, yea, the highest of all, the Father of spirits. That alone completes a spirit and blesses it—to love Him, the spring of spirits.”
To sum up all that has been said, the defect in Mr. Arnold's theory is this: It places in the second and subordinate place that which should be supreme, and elevates to the position of command a power which, rightly understood, should be subordinate and ministrant to a higher than itself. The relation to God is first, this relation is last, and culture should fill up the interspace-culture, that is, the endeavor to know and use aright the nature which he has given us, and the world in which he has placed us. Used in such a way, culture is transmuted into something far higher, more beneficent, than it ever could become if it set up for itself and claimed the chief place.
I might now conclude, but there is a poem of Arch
bishop Trench's, one of his earliest, and most interesting, which so well embodies much that I have said, that I hope you will bear with me while I read a somewhat lengthy passage from it.
The lines are simple, not greatly elaborated, but they are true, and they may, perhaps, fix the attention of some who by this time have grown weary of abstract and prosaic argument--according to that saying
“A verse may find him who a sermon Aies."
A youth, a favored child of culture, when he has long sought and not found what he expected to find in culture, wanders forth desolate and desponding into the eastern desert. The irrevocable past lies heavy on him—liis baffled purpose, his wasted years, his utter misery. So heart-forlorn is he that he is on the verge of self-destruction. At length, as he sits inconsolable beside a ruined temple in the desert, an old man stands by his side, and asks, “What is your sorrow?” The youth, lured by some strange sympathy in the old man's mien and voice, unburdens to him his grief, tells how he has tried to make and keep himself wise and pure and elevated above the common crowd, that in his soul's mirror he might find
“A reflex of the eternal mind,
A glass to give him back the truth,"
how he has followed after ideal beauty, to live in its light, dwell beneath its shadow, but at length has found that this too is vanity and emptiness.
“Till now, my youth yet scarcely done,
After an interval the old man replies:
“Ah me, my son, A weary course your life has run; And yet it need not be in vain That you have suffered all this pain; Nay, deem not of us as at strife, Because you set before your life A purpose, and a loftier aim Than the blind lives of men may claim For the most part; or that you sought, By fixed resolve and solemn thought, To list your being's calm estate Out of the range of time and fate. Glad am I that a thing unseen, A spiritual Presence, this has been Your worship, this your young heart stirred. But yet herein you proudly erred, Here may the source of woe be found, You thought to fling yourself around The atmosphere of light and love In which it was your joy to move; You thought by efforts of your own To take at last each jarring tone Out of your life, till all should meet In one majestic music sweet; And deemed that in your own heart's ground The root of good was to be found, And that by careful watering And earnest tendance we might bring The bud, the blossom, and the fruit, To grow and flourish from that root. You deemed you needed nothing more Than skill and courage to explore Deep down enough in your own heart, To where the well-head lay apart, Which must the springs of being feed, And that these fountains did but need The soil that choked them moved away, To bubble in the open day. But thanks to Heaven it is not so: That root a richer soil doth know Than our poor hearts could e'er supplyThat stream is from a source more high; From God it came, to God returns, Not nourished from our scanty urns, But fed from His unfailing river, Which runs and will run on forever.”