« PreviousContinue »
ful to the finest ideas. Routine would have the heart of them if it could: they long to feel the sword of the spirit slitting it to pieces, and giving back to God his human pulses. What is this moral power which offers opportunity to you? We call it the ideal, the soul's natural turn to be like God. It was derived from that Being who never paused during all the million years which have gone to make an earth, never lingered in a fine reverie over any of the epochs, never regretted anything that was made, never recoiled from its imperfection, never despaired at its bestiality. The divine imagination not only justified all the strange and barbarous creations, but was in rapture to perceive how they led on, a polypus that could propagate itself by sprouting, a worm that increased its family by snapping to pieces, a bug that died twice to let loose a butterfly, monstrous lizards, cold and groveling, birds that could not fly, sloths that could hardly keep awake to eat, reptiles whose fascinations were secreted by a poisonbag, and myriads of venomous insects, the whole point of whose life was to take another: these, and the noxiousness of all the periods before the elements learned balance and proportion, were the successes of an ideal that mused and planned by what road and through what shortest and cheapest processes spiritual beauty might be gained. Look at all the strata that are picked at by the scientific men, as thought, kindred to the thought that planned them, seizes the leading idea of each, and unfolds their order. They are all coasts where the divine Being arrived. All of them mark where he burnt his ships, and sought the exigency of victory. We have a natural turn to imitate this action. We call it dissatisfaction when the present palls upon us, or hurts our sense of right: we call it aspiration, when the future offers to redress the present. But call it what you will. The ideal is not an impulse that merely develops us, as trees and metals are made; not the vitality which emanates from our collective gifts. The finest soul and body, vegetating together in the kitchen-garden style, could not run up to such a blossom. But when the body plays tricks upon the soul, and the soul demurs, protests, and rages, then the spark is struck out. Let the body take care for its old combustible lumber that has been accumulating ever since the earth was made. When the soul frets at discovering something incompatible, a difference between fact and feeling, an end put to instinct and a beginning to resolution; or when an awkward reality comes lumbering sideways down the current, runs against our shells of dreams, and crushes them in, then the imagination wakes, the creative power, it was on board, the same that converted the mist of a nebula, into the planet: it wakes to perform the same service for us, to take our temperament, no matter how crude, how thin, how feebly coherent, and roll it into an orb whose shape invents its own path, and originates its own motion through the heavens. We have this good-will for the perfect, as the human side of God's perfections; but we should not have any ill-will for the imperfect in ourselves if we had traveled farther away along the ideal road to a point upon it where a prospect appears to lie on the same level as a retrospect, and the whole view is woven of homogeneous materials. But what point is that? It is God himself, the justifier of everything that he did not think it beneath him to create. At present, we can only imagine that divine impartiality, and make it one of the attributes which vindicate God to the pitch of adorability as soon as the mind transfers it to him. But now the ideal is a prisoner, like those in mediaeval times, who were condemned, by a refined sentiment of cruelty, to be wakened every fifteen minutes, day and night, till nature sank exhausted. Our temperament is the jailer that is detailed to do the shaking. But, when the prisoner is immortal, the oftener you wake him up, the wider open do you set his eyes, till in that width there is liberty. I welcome you forth to do work of awakening. Have no longer a box for a pulpit: but, wherever you preach, let it be a place as large as the humanity which claims to be real and ideal, and demands a free ministry for both functions. I cannot anticipate through what forms the country will learn to be addressed; but this I know, that souls will not put up with phrases any longer, and the monotone of Sunday will not charm. Let all the
seven days rise in your message to a completed harmony. Amiable tourists of religion delight to bring home with them a bottle from the Jordan. American rivers are rolling for the baptism of Americans: scoop up each morning fresh water, as it descends, far-traveled it may be indeed, but eager to shape new channels, and refresh a virgin soil. I commend you to the divine spirit whose lips at your ear shall bid you wake to-morrow.
ANDREW DICKSON WHITE
THE FIELD OF HISTORICAL STUDY
[Address by Andrew D. White, historian and diplomat, president Cornell University 1867-85, appointed ambassador to Germany 1897 (born in Homer, N. Y., November 7, 1832; ), delivered at the opening session of the American Historical Association, as its first president, at Saratoga, N. Y., September 9, 1884.]
GENTLEMEN:—At the founding of an association for the advancement of historical studies in the United States it is natural that we look over the field to see in what directions and through what channels the activity of American historical scholars can be best directed.
In every branch of learning there are some fields into which all scholars in all nations may enter upon equal terms and with equal chances of success; but there are also special fields in which each national group of scholars works at an advantage, and in which scholars in other nations must, as a rule, give the maximum of labor to the minimum of result; and this is by no means least true in the study of history. It is evident, for example, that the scholars of each nation have special advantages as regards investigation in the history of their own country; having closer access to its documents and finer appreciation of its modes of thought, they bring themselves more easily into the historical current flowing through their nation than a scholar from outside generally can. There are, indeed, exceptions to this rule. Such men as Ranke, Buckle, von Sybel, Sir James Stephen, Parkman, Baird, and Charles Kendall Adams, writing upon the history of
Copyright, by American Historical Association. Reprinted by permission: from Vol. I, Part a, “Papers.” 1177
France; Guizot, Pauli, and Gneist, upon the general and constitutional history of England; Motley, upon the history of Holland; Prescott, Ticknor, and Dunham, upon the history of Spain; Robertson, Bryce, Carlyle, and Herbert Tuttle, upon the history of Germany; Haxthausen and Wallace, upon the history of Russia; De Tocqueville, Laboulaye, and von Holst, upon the history of the United States, show that the general rule has many and striking exceptions, so many exceptions indeed, as to indicate the existence of a subordinate rule, which, simply stated, is that an individual standing outside of the country may be so disengaged and disentangled as to take a clearer view of questions in which religious or patriotic prejudices are involved than most scholars within the country are likely to do. Still the large rule is unquestionably that the main work in the development of historical knowledge concerning any country must be done by the scholars of that country. But besides these special fields there are general fields. These have to do with the evolution of man and society in human events through large reaches of time and space, —with a philosophical synthesis of human affairs, or what may be called the “summing up" of history. These fields are open to thoughtful men of all countries alike; they can be studied with fairly equal chances of success by men in all parts of the world where human thought is not under some curb, and where the love of truth as truth and faith in truth as truth predominate over allegiance to any system: governmental, ecclesiastical, philosophical, or scientific. While acknowledging the great value of special investigations and contributions to historical knowledge in individual nations, it is not too much to say that the highest effort and the noblest result toward which these special historical investigations lead, is the philosophical synthesis of all special results in a large, truth-loving, justice-loving spirit. Bearing on this point, Buckle, in a passage well worthy of meditation, has placed observation at the foot of the ladder, discovery next above it, and philosophical method at the summit. He has shown that without a true philosophical synthesis special investigations and discoveries often lead us far from any valuable fruits, and that