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relations to each other, should be cast away, and both seize the same plank (to me the favorite illustration) and one should thrust the other off; would it not be monstrous, upon the trial of the alleged offender, that the plank should be brought into court and submitted to some men of approved skill, and measured and examined by square, rule, and compass; its specific gravity ascertained, and the possibility of its sufficiency to sustain two men discussed and decided; and, upon the basis of such calculation as that, the prisoner should be deprived of his liberty or his life; when, if you had placed the witnesses in his precise situation, and they had been called upon to act upon a sudden emergency, they would have done precisely what he did, and what every principle of natural law warrants. It is worse than idle to suppose, that in such a critical juncture as this, men are to cast lots or toss up for their lives. In such peril a man makes his own law with his own right arm.
But, say the learned counsel, had the passengers been permitted to remain until morning, they might have been saved by the Crescent. I answer, had they remained a single hour, they would have never seen the morning; every man, woman, and child would have weltered in the coral caves of the ocean. The approach of the Crescent could not, even in
point of fact, have operated to alleviate their fears; without prescience they could have anticipated no such relief. Men are to act upon the past and present; the future belongs to God alone.
You are told, however, that the condition of the boat was not hopeless; that she was on "the great highroad of nations," and that there was every prospect of her being picked up. The gentleman speaks of the great highroad of nations over the pathless ocean, as it were the Chesapeake and Delaware canal, in which two vessels could scarcely pass abreast. The President, steamer, sunk probably upon this great highroad, leaving no voice to tell her fate. Surrounded as the boat was by mountains of ice, no ship would probably ever have reached her, if steering in that direct course. Fate itself seemed to forbid it; nay, no vessel, says the captain, would have ventured among the ice, had the position of the boat been known; as no commander, however philanthropic, would have so far perilled his own hopes in order to redeem the lives of others. The chances of rescue were entirely too remote then-ninety-nine chances against one, say the witnesses to enter into the calculation of the mate and crew, had their circumstances even been such as to allow them dispassionately to reason upon the subject; but as it was,
terror had assumed the throne of reason, passion became judgment, and you know the sequel.
PHARISAISM OF REFORM
GEORGE W. CURTIS
George William Curtis was born in Providence, Rhode Island, Feb. 24, 1824, and died on Staten Island, N. Y., August 31, 1892. He won a high reputation as a man of letters, lecturer, and polished speaker among the famous men of his generation, and was one of the prime movers in reforming the civil service. His speeches are all fine specimens of literary skill and were usually written out, polished, and committed to memory before being delivered, but for all that they possess the qualities of the oration more than the written composition.
American, it seems to me, is so unworthy the name as he who attempts to extenuate or defend any national abuse, who denies or tries to hide it, or who derides as pessimists and Pharisees those who indignantly disown it and raise the cry of reform. If a man proposes the redress of any public wrong, he is asked severely whether he considers himself so much wiser and better than other men, that he must disturb the existing order and pose as a saint. If he denounces an evil, he is exhorted to beware of spiritual pride. If he points out a dangerous public tendency or censures the action of a party, he is advised to cultivate good-humor, to look on the bright side, to remem
ber that the world is a very good world, at least the best going, and very much better than it was a hundred years ago.
Undoubtedly it is; but would it have been better if everybody had then insisted that it was the best of all possible worlds, and that we must not despond if sometimes a cloud gathered in the sky, or a Benedict Arnold appeared in the patriot army, or even a Judas Iscariot among the chosen twelve? Christ, I think, did not doubt the beloved disciple nor the coming of His kingdom, although He knew and said that the betrayer sat with Him at the table. I believe we do not read that Washington either thought it wiser that Arnold's treachery should be denied or belittled, or that he or any other patriot despaired although the treason was so grave. Julius Cæsar or Marlborough or Frederick would hardly be called a great general if he had rebuked the soldier who reported that the lines were beginning to break. When the sea is pouring into the ship through an open seam, everybody is aware of it. But then it is too late. It is the watch who reports the first starting of the seam who saves the ship.
It is an ill sign when public men find in exposure and denunciation of public abuses evidence of the pharisaic disposition and a tendency in the critic
to think himself holier than other men. Was Martin Luther, cheerfully defending his faith against the princes of Christendom, a Pharisee? Were the English Puritans, iconoclasts in Church and State but saviours of liberty, pessimists? Were Patrick Henry demanding liberty or death, and Wendell Phillips in the night of slavery murmuring the music of the morning, birds of ill omen? Was Abraham Lincoln saying of the American Union, "A house divided with itself cannot stand,” assuming to be holier than other Americans? To win a cheap cheer, I have known even intelligent men to sneer at the scholar in politics. But in a republic founded upon the common school, such a sneer seems to me to show a momentary loss of common-sense. It implies that the political opinions of educated men are unimportant and that ignorance is a safer counsellor of the republic. If the gentleman who, in this very hall last stooped to that sneer, had asked himself what would have been the fortune of this State and this country without its educated leadership, from Samuel Adams to Charles Sumner,- both sons of Massachusetts, both scholars in politics from Harvard College,— he might have spared his country, his party, and himself, the essential recreancy to America and to manhood which lies in a sneer at education. To