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´╗┐Title: On Heroes and Hero Worship and the Heroic in History
Author: Carlyle, Thomas, 1795-1881
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "On Heroes and Hero Worship and the Heroic in History" ***

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By Thomas Carlyle

Transcriber's Note:

The text is taken from the printed "Sterling Edition" of Carlyle's
Complete Works, in 20 volumes, with the following modifications made
in the etext version: Italicized text is delimited by underscores,
_thusly_. The footnote (there is only one) has been embedded directly
into text, in brackets, [thusly]. Greek text has been transliterated
into Latin characters with the notation [Gr.] juxtaposed. Otherwise, the
punctuation and spelling of the print version have been retained.





[May 5, 1840.]

We have undertaken to discourse here for a little on Great Men, their
manner of appearance in our world's business, how they have shaped
themselves in the world's history, what ideas men formed of them,
what work they did;--on Heroes, namely, and on their reception and
performance; what I call Hero-worship and the Heroic in human affairs.
Too evidently this is a large topic; deserving quite other treatment
than we can expect to give it at present. A large topic; indeed, an
illimitable one; wide as Universal History itself. For, as I take it,
Universal History, the history of what man has accomplished in this
world, is at bottom the History of the Great Men who have worked here.
They were the leaders of men, these great ones; the modellers, patterns,
and in a wide sense creators, of whatsoever the general mass of
men contrived to do or to attain; all things that we see standing
accomplished in the world are properly the outer material result, the
practical realization and embodiment, of Thoughts that dwelt in the
Great Men sent into the world: the soul of the whole world's history, it
may justly be considered, were the history of these. Too clearly it is a
topic we shall do no justice to in this place!

One comfort is, that Great Men, taken up in any way, are profitable
company. We cannot look, however imperfectly, upon a great man, without
gaining something by him. He is the living light-fountain, which it
is good and pleasant to be near. The light which enlightens, which has
enlightened the darkness of the world; and this not as a kindled lamp
only, but rather as a natural luminary shining by the gift of Heaven; a
flowing light-fountain, as I say, of native original insight, of manhood
and heroic nobleness;--in whose radiance all souls feel that it is well
with them. On any terms whatsoever, you will not grudge to wander in
such neighborhood for a while. These Six classes of Heroes, chosen out
of widely distant countries and epochs, and in mere external figure
differing altogether, ought, if we look faithfully at them, to
illustrate several things for us. Could we see them well, we should get
some glimpses into the very marrow of the world's history. How happy,
could I but, in any measure, in such times as these, make manifest to
you the meanings of Heroism; the divine relation (for I may well call it
such) which in all times unites a Great Man to other men; and thus, as
it were, not exhaust my subject, but so much as break ground on it! At
all events, I must make the attempt.

It is well said, in every sense, that a man's religion is the chief fact
with regard to him. A man's, or a nation of men's. By religion I do not
mean here the church-creed which he professes, the articles of faith
which he will sign and, in words or otherwise, assert; not this wholly,
in many cases not this at all. We see men of all kinds of professed
creeds attain to almost all degrees of worth or worthlessness under each
or any of them. This is not what I call religion, this profession and
assertion; which is often only a profession and assertion from the
outworks of the man, from the mere argumentative region of him, if even
so deep as that. But the thing a man does practically believe (and this
is often enough _without_ asserting it even to himself, much less to
others); the thing a man does practically lay to heart, and know for
certain, concerning his vital relations to this mysterious Universe, and
his duty and destiny there, that is in all cases the primary thing for
him, and creatively determines all the rest. That is his _religion_; or,
it may be, his mere scepticism and _no-religion_: the manner it is in
which he feels himself to be spiritually related to the Unseen World or
No-World; and I say, if you tell me what that is, you tell me to a very
great extent what the man is, what the kind of things he will do is. Of
a man or of a nation we inquire, therefore, first of all, What
religion they had? Was it Heathenism,--plurality of gods, mere sensuous
representation of this Mystery of Life, and for chief recognized element
therein Physical Force? Was it Christianism; faith in an Invisible,
not as real only, but as the only reality; Time, through every meanest
moment of it, resting on Eternity; Pagan empire of Force displaced by a
nobler supremacy, that of Holiness? Was it Scepticism, uncertainty and
inquiry whether there was an Unseen World, any Mystery of Life except
a mad one;--doubt as to all this, or perhaps unbelief and flat denial?
Answering of this question is giving us the soul of the history of the
man or nation. The thoughts they had were the parents of the actions
they did; their feelings were parents of their thoughts: it was
the unseen and spiritual in them that determined the outward and
actual;--their religion, as I say, was the great fact about them. In
these Discourses, limited as we are, it will be good to direct our
survey chiefly to that religious phasis of the matter. That once known
well, all is known. We have chosen as the first Hero in our series Odin
the central figure of Scandinavian Paganism; an emblem to us of a most
extensive province of things. Let us look for a little at the Hero as
Divinity, the oldest primary form of Heroism.

Surely it seems a very strange-looking thing this Paganism; almost
inconceivable to us in these days. A bewildering, inextricable jungle of
delusions, confusions, falsehoods, and absurdities, covering the whole
field of Life! A thing that fills us with astonishment, almost, if it
were possible, with incredulity,--for truly it is not easy to understand
that sane men could ever calmly, with their eyes open, believe and live
by such a set of doctrines. That men should have worshipped their poor
fellow-man as a God, and not him only, but stocks and stones, and all
manner of animate and inanimate objects; and fashioned for themselves
such a distracted chaos of hallucinations by way of Theory of the
Universe: all this looks like an incredible fable. Nevertheless it is
a clear fact that they did it. Such hideous inextricable jungle of
misworships, misbeliefs, men, made as we are, did actually hold by,
and live at home in. This is strange. Yes, we may pause in sorrow and
silence over the depths of darkness that are in man; if we rejoice in
the heights of purer vision he has attained to. Such things were and are
in man; in all men; in us too.

Some speculators have a short way of accounting for the Pagan religion:
mere quackery, priestcraft, and dupery, say they; no sane man ever did
believe it,--merely contrived to persuade other men, not worthy of
the name of sane, to believe it! It will be often our duty to protest
against this sort of hypothesis about men's doings and history; and
I here, on the very threshold, protest against it in reference to
Paganism, and to all other _isms_ by which man has ever for a length of
time striven to walk in this world. They have all had a truth in them,
or men would not have taken them up. Quackery and dupery do abound; in
religions, above all in the more advanced decaying stages of religions,
they have fearfully abounded: but quackery was never the originating
influence in such things; it was not the health and life of such things,
but their disease, the sure precursor of their being about to die! Let
us never forget this. It seems to me a most mournful hypothesis, that
of quackery giving birth to any faith even in savage men. Quackery gives
birth to nothing; gives death to all things. We shall not see into the
true heart of anything, if we look merely at the quackeries of it; if we
do not reject the quackeries altogether; as mere diseases, corruptions,
with which our and all men's sole duty is to have done with them, to
sweep them out of our thoughts as out of our practice. Man everywhere
is the born enemy of lies. I find Grand Lamaism itself to have a kind
of truth in it. Read the candid, clear-sighted, rather sceptical Mr.
Turner's _Account of his Embassy_ to that country, and see. They have
their belief, these poor Thibet people, that Providence sends down
always an Incarnation of Himself into every generation. At bottom some
belief in a kind of Pope! At bottom still better, belief that there is
a _Greatest_ Man; that _he_ is discoverable; that, once discovered, we
ought to treat him with an obedience which knows no bounds! This is the
truth of Grand Lamaism; the "discoverability" is the only error here.
The Thibet priests have methods of their own of discovering what Man is
Greatest, fit to be supreme over them. Bad methods: but are they so
much worse than our methods,--of understanding him to be always the
eldest-born of a certain genealogy? Alas, it is a difficult thing to
find good methods for!--We shall begin to have a chance of understanding
Paganism, when we first admit that to its followers it was, at one time,
earnestly true. Let us consider it very certain that men did believe
in Paganism; men with open eyes, sound senses, men made altogether like
ourselves; that we, had we been there, should have believed in it. Ask
now, What Paganism could have been?

Another theory, somewhat more respectable, attributes such things
to Allegory. It was a play of poetic minds, say these theorists; a
shadowing forth, in allegorical fable, in personification and visual
form, of what such poetic minds had known and felt of this Universe.
Which agrees, add they, with a primary law of human nature, still
everywhere observably at work, though in less important things, That
what a man feels intensely, he struggles to speak out of him, to see
represented before him in visual shape, and as if with a kind of life
and historical reality in it. Now doubtless there is such a law, and it
is one of the deepest in human nature; neither need we doubt that it did
operate fundamentally in this business. The hypothesis which ascribes
Paganism wholly or mostly to this agency, I call a little more
respectable; but I cannot yet call it the true hypothesis. Think, would
_we_ believe, and take with us as our life-guidance, an allegory, a
poetic sport? Not sport but earnest is what we should require. It is a
most earnest thing to be alive in this world; to die is not sport for
a man. Man's life never was a sport to him; it was a stern reality,
altogether a serious matter to be alive!

I find, therefore, that though these Allegory theorists are on the way
towards truth in this matter, they have not reached it either. Pagan
Religion is indeed an Allegory, a Symbol of what men felt and knew about
the Universe; and all Religions are symbols of that, altering always
as that alters: but it seems to me a radical perversion, and even
inversion, of the business, to put that forward as the origin and moving
cause, when it was rather the result and termination. To get beautiful
allegories, a perfect poetic symbol, was not the want of men; but to
know what they were to believe about this Universe, what course they
were to steer in it; what, in this mysterious Life of theirs, they
had to hope and to fear, to do and to forbear doing. The _Pilgrim's
Progress_ is an Allegory, and a beautiful, just and serious one: but
consider whether Bunyan's Allegory could have _preceded_ the Faith it
symbolizes! The Faith had to be already there, standing believed by
everybody;--of which the Allegory could _then_ become a shadow; and,
with all its seriousness, we may say a _sportful_ shadow, a mere play of
the Fancy, in comparison with that awful Fact and scientific certainty
which it poetically strives to emblem. The Allegory is the product of
the certainty, not the producer of it; not in Bunyan's nor in any other
case. For Paganism, therefore, we have still to inquire, Whence came
that scientific certainty, the parent of such a bewildered heap of
allegories, errors and confusions? How was it, what was it?

Surely it were a foolish attempt to pretend "explaining," in this place,
or in any place, such a phenomenon as that far-distant distracted cloudy
imbroglio of Paganism,--more like a cloud-field than a distant continent
of firm land and facts! It is no longer a reality, yet it was one. We
ought to understand that this seeming cloud-field was once a reality;
that not poetic allegory, least of all that dupery and deception was
the origin of it. Men, I say, never did believe idle songs, never risked
their soul's life on allegories: men in all times, especially in early
earnest times, have had an instinct for detecting quacks, for detesting
quacks. Let us try if, leaving out both the quack theory and the
allegory one, and listening with affectionate attention to that far-off
confused rumor of the Pagan ages, we cannot ascertain so much as this at
least, That there was a kind of fact at the heart of them; that they too
were not mendacious and distracted, but in their own poor way true and

You remember that fancy of Plato's, of a man who had grown to maturity
in some dark distance, and was brought on a sudden into the upper air to
see the sun rise. What would his wonder be, his rapt astonishment at the
sight we daily witness with indifference! With the free open sense of
a child, yet with the ripe faculty of a man, his whole heart would be
kindled by that sight, he would discern it well to be Godlike, his
soul would fall down in worship before it. Now, just such a childlike
greatness was in the primitive nations. The first Pagan Thinker
among rude men, the first man that began to think, was precisely this
child-man of Plato's. Simple, open as a child, yet with the depth and
strength of a man. Nature had as yet no name to him; he had not yet
united under a name the infinite variety of sights, sounds, shapes
and motions, which we now collectively name Universe, Nature, or the
like,--and so with a name dismiss it from us. To the wild deep-hearted
man all was yet new, not veiled under names or formulas; it stood naked,
flashing in on him there, beautiful, awful, unspeakable. Nature was to
this man, what to the Thinker and Prophet it forever is, preternatural.
This green flowery rock-built earth, the trees, the mountains, rivers,
many-sounding seas;--that great deep sea of azure that swims overhead;
the winds sweeping through it; the black cloud fashioning itself
together, now pouring out fire, now hail and rain; what _is_ it? Ay,
what? At bottom we do not yet know; we can never know at all. It is
not by our superior insight that we escape the difficulty; it is by our
superior levity, our inattention, our _want_ of insight. It is by _not_
thinking that we cease to wonder at it. Hardened round us, encasing
wholly every notion we form, is a wrappage of traditions, hearsays, mere
_words_. We call that fire of the black thunder-cloud "electricity," and
lecture learnedly about it, and grind the like of it out of glass and
silk: but _what_ is it? What made it? Whence comes it? Whither goes it?
Science has done much for us; but it is a poor science that would hide
from us the great deep sacred infinitude of Nescience, whither we can
never penetrate, on which all science swims as a mere superficial film.
This world, after all our science and sciences, is still a miracle;
wonderful, inscrutable, _magical_ and more, to whosoever will _think_ of

That great mystery of TIME, were there no other; the illimitable,
silent, never-resting thing called Time, rolling, rushing on, swift,
silent, like an all-embracing ocean-tide, on which we and all the
Universe swim like exhalations, like apparitions which are, and then are
_not_: this is forever very literally a miracle; a thing to strike us
dumb,--for we have no word to speak about it. This Universe, ah me--what
could the wild man know of it; what can we yet know? That it is a Force,
and thousand-fold Complexity of Forces; a Force which is _not_ we. That
is all; it is not we, it is altogether different from us. Force, Force,
everywhere Force; we ourselves a mysterious Force in the centre of that.
"There is not a leaf rotting on the highway but has Force in it; how
else could it rot?" Nay surely, to the Atheistic Thinker, if such a one
were possible, it must be a miracle too, this huge illimitable whirlwind
of Force, which envelops us here; never-resting whirlwind, high as
Immensity, old as Eternity. What is it? God's Creation, the religious
people answer; it is the Almighty God's! Atheistic science babbles
poorly of it, with scientific nomenclatures, experiments and what not,
as if it were a poor dead thing, to be bottled up in Leyden jars and
sold over counters: but the natural sense of man, in all times, if he
will honestly apply his sense, proclaims it to be a living thing,--ah,
an unspeakable, godlike thing; towards which the best attitude for us,
after never so much science, is awe, devout prostration and humility of
soul; worship if not in words, then in silence.

But now I remark farther: What in such a time as ours it requires a
Prophet or Poet to teach us, namely, the stripping-off of those poor
undevout wrappages, nomenclatures and scientific hearsays,--this, the
ancient earnest soul, as yet unencumbered with these things, did for
itself. The world, which is now divine only to the gifted, was then
divine to whosoever would turn his eye upon it. He stood bare before it
face to face. "All was Godlike or God:"--Jean Paul still finds it so;
the giant Jean Paul, who has power to escape out of hearsays: but there
then were no hearsays. Canopus shining down over the desert, with its
blue diamond brightness (that wild blue spirit-like brightness, far
brighter than we ever witness here), would pierce into the heart of the
wild Ishmaelitish man, whom it was guiding through the solitary waste
there. To his wild heart, with all feelings in it, with no _speech_ for
any feeling, it might seem a little eye, that Canopus, glancing out on
him from the great deep Eternity; revealing the inner Splendor to him.
Cannot we understand how these men _worshipped_ Canopus; became what
we call Sabeans, worshipping the stars? Such is to me the secret of
all forms of Paganism. Worship is transcendent wonder; wonder for which
there is now no limit or measure; that is worship. To these primeval
men, all things and everything they saw exist beside them were an emblem
of the Godlike, of some God.

And look what perennial fibre of truth was in that. To us also, through
every star, through every blade of grass, is not a God made visible, if
we will open our minds and eyes? We do not worship in that way now:
but is it not reckoned still a merit, proof of what we call a "poetic
nature," that we recognize how every object has a divine beauty in it;
how every object still verily is "a window through which we may look
into Infinitude itself"? He that can discern the loveliness of things,
we call him Poet! Painter, Man of Genius, gifted, lovable. These poor
Sabeans did even what he does,--in their own fashion. That they did
it, in what fashion soever, was a merit: better than what the entirely
stupid man did, what the horse and camel did,--namely, nothing!

But now if all things whatsoever that we look upon are emblems to us
of the Highest God, I add that more so than any of them is man such
an emblem. You have heard of St. Chrysostom's celebrated saying in
reference to the Shekinah, or Ark of Testimony, visible Revelation of
God, among the Hebrews: "The true Shekinah is Man!" Yes, it is even so:
this is no vain phrase; it is veritably so. The essence of our being,
the mystery in us that calls itself "I,"--ah, what words have we for
such things?--is a breath of Heaven; the Highest Being reveals himself
in man. This body, these faculties, this life of ours, is it not all as
a vesture for that Unnamed? "There is but one Temple in the Universe,"
says the devout Novalis, "and that is the Body of Man. Nothing is holier
shall that high form. Bending before men is a reverence done to this
Revelation in the Flesh. We touch Heaven when we lay our hand on a human
body!" This sounds much like a mere flourish of rhetoric; but it is not
so. If well meditated, it will turn out to be a scientific fact; the
expression, in such words as can be had, of the actual truth of the
thing. We are the miracle of miracles,--the great inscrutable mystery of
God. We cannot understand it, we know not how to speak of it; but we may
feel and know, if we like, that it is verily so.

Well; these truths were once more readily felt than now. The young
generations of the world, who had in them the freshness of young
children, and yet the depth of earnest men, who did not think that they
had finished off all things in Heaven and Earth by merely giving them
scientific names, but had to gaze direct at them there, with awe and
wonder: they felt better what of divinity is in man and Nature; they,
without being mad, could _worship_ Nature, and man more than anything
else in Nature. Worship, that is, as I said above, admire without limit:
this, in the full use of their faculties, with all sincerity of heart,
they could do. I consider Hero-worship to be the grand modifying element
in that ancient system of thought. What I called the perplexed jungle
of Paganism sprang, we may say, out of many roots: every admiration,
adoration of a star or natural object, was a root or fibre of a root;
but Hero-worship is the deepest root of all; the tap-root, from which in
a great degree all the rest were nourished and grown.

And now if worship even of a star had some meaning in it, how much more
might that of a Hero! Worship of a Hero is transcendent admiration of
a Great Man. I say great men are still admirable; I say there is,
at bottom, nothing else admirable! No nobler feeling than this of
admiration for one higher than himself dwells in the breast of man.
It is to this hour, and at all hours, the vivifying influence in man's
life. Religion I find stand upon it; not Paganism only, but far higher
and truer religions,--all religion hitherto known. Hero-worship,
heartfelt prostrate admiration, submission, burning, boundless, for
a noblest godlike Form of Man,--is not that the germ of Christianity
itself? The greatest of all Heroes is One--whom we do not name here!
Let sacred silence meditate that sacred matter; you will find it the
ultimate perfection of a principle extant throughout man's whole history
on earth.

Or coming into lower, less unspeakable provinces, is not all Loyalty
akin to religious Faith also? Faith is loyalty to some inspired
Teacher, some spiritual Hero. And what therefore is loyalty proper, the
life-breath of all society, but an effluence of Hero-worship, submissive
admiration for the truly great? Society is founded on Hero-worship. All
dignities of rank, on which human association rests, are what we may
call a _Hero_archy (Government of Heroes),--or a Hierarchy, for it
is "sacred" enough withal! The Duke means _Dux_, Leader; King is
_Kon-ning_, _Kan-ning_, Man that _knows_ or _cans_. Society everywhere
is some representation, not insupportably inaccurate, of a graduated
Worship of Heroes--reverence and obedience done to men really great and
wise. Not insupportably inaccurate, I say! They are all as bank-notes,
these social dignitaries, all representing gold;--and several of them,
alas, always are _forged_ notes. We can do with some forged false notes;
with a good many even; but not with all, or the most of them forged!
No: there have to come revolutions then; cries of Democracy, Liberty and
Equality, and I know not what:--the notes being all false, and no gold
to be had for _them_, people take to crying in their despair that
there is no gold, that there never was any! "Gold," Hero-worship, _is_
nevertheless, as it was always and everywhere, and cannot cease till man
himself ceases.

I am well aware that in these days Hero-worship, the thing I call
Hero-worship, professes to have gone out, and finally ceased. This, for
reasons which it will be worth while some time to inquire into, is
an age that as it were denies the existence of great men; denies the
desirableness of great men. Show our critics a great man, a Luther for
example, they begin to what they call "account" for him; not to worship
him, but take the dimensions of him,--and bring him out to be a little
kind of man! He was the "creature of the Time," they say; the Time
called him forth, the Time did everything, he nothing--but what we the
little critic could have done too! This seems to me but melancholy work.
The Time call forth? Alas, we have known Times _call_ loudly enough for
their great man; but not find him when they called! He was not there;
Providence had not sent him; the Time, _calling_ its loudest, had to go
down to confusion and wreck because he would not come when called.

For if we will think of it, no Time need have gone to ruin, could it
have _found_ a man great enough, a man wise and good enough: wisdom to
discern truly what the Time wanted, valor to lead it on the right road
thither; these are the salvation of any Time. But I liken common languid
Times, with their unbelief, distress, perplexity, with their languid
doubting characters and embarrassed circumstances, impotently crumbling
down into ever worse distress towards final ruin;--all this I liken to
dry dead fuel, waiting for the lightning out of Heaven that shall kindle
it. The great man, with his free force direct out of God's own hand, is
the lightning. His word is the wise healing word which all can believe
in. All blazes round him now, when he has once struck on it, into fire
like his own. The dry mouldering sticks are thought to have called him
forth. They did want him greatly; but as to calling him forth--! Those
are critics of small vision, I think, who cry: "See, is it not the
sticks that made the fire?" No sadder proof can be given by a man of his
own littleness than disbelief in great men. There is no sadder symptom
of a generation than such general blindness to the spiritual lightning,
with faith only in the heap of barren dead fuel. It is the last
consummation of unbelief. In all epochs of the world's history, we
shall find the Great Man to have been the indispensable savior of his
epoch;--the lightning, without which the fuel never would have burnt.
The History of the World, I said already, was the Biography of Great

Such small critics do what they can to promote unbelief and universal
spiritual paralysis: but happily they cannot always completely succeed.
In all times it is possible for a man to arise great enough to feel that
they and their doctrines are chimeras and cobwebs. And what is notable,
in no time whatever can they entirely eradicate out of living men's
hearts a certain altogether peculiar reverence for Great Men; genuine
admiration, loyalty, adoration, however dim and perverted it may be.
Hero-worship endures forever while man endures. Boswell venerates his
Johnson, right truly even in the Eighteenth century. The unbelieving
French believe in their Voltaire; and burst out round him into very
curious Hero-worship, in that last act of his life when they "stifle
him under roses." It has always seemed to me extremely curious this
of Voltaire. Truly, if Christianity be the highest instance of
Hero-worship, then we may find here in Voltaireism one of the lowest!
He whose life was that of a kind of Antichrist, does again on this
side exhibit a curious contrast. No people ever were so little prone
to admire at all as those French of Voltaire. _Persiflage_ was the
character of their whole mind; adoration had nowhere a place in it. Yet
see! The old man of Ferney comes up to Paris; an old, tottering, infirm
man of eighty-four years. They feel that he too is a kind of Hero;
that he has spent his life in opposing error and injustice, delivering
Calases, unmasking hypocrites in high places;--in short that _he_ too,
though in a strange way, has fought like a valiant man. They feel
withal that, if _persiflage_ be the great thing, there never was such a
_persifleur_. He is the realized ideal of every one of them; the thing
they are all wanting to be; of all Frenchmen the most French. He is
properly their god,--such god as they are fit for. Accordingly all
persons, from the Queen Antoinette to the Douanier at the Porte St.
Denis, do they not worship him? People of quality disguise themselves
as tavern-waiters. The Maitre de Poste, with a broad oath, orders his
Postilion, "_Va bon train_; thou art driving M. de Voltaire." At
Paris his carriage is "the nucleus of a comet, whose train fills whole
streets." The ladies pluck a hair or two from his fur, to keep it as a
sacred relic. There was nothing highest, beautifulest, noblest in all
France, that did not feel this man to be higher, beautifuler, nobler.

Yes, from Norse Odin to English Samuel Johnson, from the divine Founder
of Christianity to the withered Pontiff of Encyclopedism, in all times
and places, the Hero has been worshipped. It will ever be so. We all
love great men; love, venerate and bow down submissive before great men:
nay can we honestly bow down to anything else? Ah, does not every true
man feel that he is himself made higher by doing reverence to what is
really above him? No nobler or more blessed feeling dwells in man's
heart. And to me it is very cheering to consider that no sceptical
logic, or general triviality, insincerity and aridity of any Time and
its influences can destroy this noble inborn loyalty and worship that
is in man. In times of unbelief, which soon have to become times of
revolution, much down-rushing, sorrowful decay and ruin is visible
to everybody. For myself in these days, I seem to see in this
indestructibility of Hero-worship the everlasting adamant lower than
which the confused wreck of revolutionary things cannot fall. The
confused wreck of things crumbling and even crashing and tumbling
all round us in these revolutionary ages, will get down so far; _no_
farther. It is an eternal corner-stone, from which they can begin to
build themselves up again. That man, in some sense or other, worships
Heroes; that we all of us reverence and must ever reverence Great Men:
this is, to me, the living rock amid all rushings-down whatsoever;--the
one fixed point in modern revolutionary history, otherwise as if
bottomless and shoreless.

So much of truth, only under an ancient obsolete vesture, but the spirit
of it still true, do I find in the Paganism of old nations. Nature is
still divine, the revelation of the workings of God; the Hero is still
worshipable: this, under poor cramped incipient forms, is what all
Pagan religions have struggled, as they could, to set forth. I think
Scandinavian Paganism, to us here, is more interesting than any other.
It is, for one thing, the latest; it continued in these regions of
Europe till the eleventh century: eight hundred years ago the Norwegians
were still worshippers of Odin. It is interesting also as the creed of
our fathers; the men whose blood still runs in our veins, whom doubtless
we still resemble in so many ways. Strange: they did believe that,
while we believe so differently. Let us look a little at this poor Norse
creed, for many reasons. We have tolerable means to do it; for there is
another point of interest in these Scandinavian mythologies: that they
have been preserved so well.

In that strange island Iceland,--burst up, the geologists say, by
fire from the bottom of the sea; a wild land of barrenness and lava;
swallowed many months of every year in black tempests, yet with a wild
gleaming beauty in summertime; towering up there, stern and grim, in
the North Ocean with its snow jokuls, roaring geysers, sulphur-pools and
horrid volcanic chasms, like the waste chaotic battle-field of Frost
and Fire;--where of all places we least looked for Literature or written
memorials, the record of these things was written down. On the seabord
of this wild land is a rim of grassy country, where cattle can subsist,
and men by means of them and of what the sea yields; and it seems they
were poetic men these, men who had deep thoughts in them, and uttered
musically their thoughts. Much would be lost, had Iceland not been burst
up from the sea, not been discovered by the Northmen! The old Norse
Poets were many of them natives of Iceland.

Saemund, one of the early Christian Priests there, who perhaps had a
lingering fondness for Paganism, collected certain of their old Pagan
songs, just about becoming obsolete then,--Poems or Chants of a mythic,
prophetic, mostly all of a religious character: that is what Norse
critics call the _Elder_ or Poetic _Edda_. _Edda_, a word of uncertain
etymology, is thought to signify _Ancestress_. Snorro Sturleson, an
Iceland gentleman, an extremely notable personage, educated by this
Saemund's grandson, took in hand next, near a century afterwards, to put
together, among several other books he wrote, a kind of Prose Synopsis
of the whole Mythology; elucidated by new fragments of traditionary
verse. A work constructed really with great ingenuity, native talent,
what one might call unconscious art; altogether a perspicuous clear
work, pleasant reading still: this is the _Younger_ or Prose _Edda_.
By these and the numerous other _Sagas_, mostly Icelandic, with the
commentaries, Icelandic or not, which go on zealously in the North to
this day, it is possible to gain some direct insight even yet; and see
that old Norse system of Belief, as it were, face to face. Let us forget
that it is erroneous Religion; let us look at it as old Thought, and try
if we cannot sympathize with it somewhat.

The primary characteristic of this old Northland Mythology I find to
be Impersonation of the visible workings of Nature. Earnest simple
recognition of the workings of Physical Nature, as a thing wholly
miraculous, stupendous and divine. What we now lecture of as Science,
they wondered at, and fell down in awe before, as Religion The dark
hostile Powers of Nature they figure to themselves as "_Jotuns_,"
Giants, huge shaggy beings of a demonic character. Frost, Fire,
Sea-tempest; these are Jotuns. The friendly Powers again, as
Summer-heat, the Sun, are Gods. The empire of this Universe is divided
between these two; they dwell apart, in perennial internecine feud.
The Gods dwell above in Asgard, the Garden of the Asen, or Divinities;
Jotunheim, a distant dark chaotic land, is the home of the Jotuns.

Curious all this; and not idle or inane, if we will look at the
foundation of it! The power of _Fire_, or _Flame_, for instance,
which we designate by some trivial chemical name, thereby hiding from
ourselves the essential character of wonder that dwells in it as in all
things, is with these old Northmen, Loke, a most swift subtle _Demon_,
of the brood of the Jotuns. The savages of the Ladrones Islands too (say
some Spanish voyagers) thought Fire, which they never had seen before,
was a devil or god, that bit you sharply when you touched it, and that
lived upon dry wood. From us too no Chemistry, if it had not Stupidity
to help it, would hide that Flame is a wonder. What _is_ Flame?--_Frost_
the old Norse Seer discerns to be a monstrous hoary Jotun, the Giant
_Thrym_, _Hrym_; or _Rime_, the old word now nearly obsolete here, but
still used in Scotland to signify hoar-frost. _Rime_ was not then as now
a dead chemical thing, but a living Jotun or Devil; the monstrous Jotun
_Rime_ drove home his Horses at night, sat "combing their manes,"--which
Horses were _Hail-Clouds_, or fleet _Frost-Winds_. His Cows--No, not
his, but a kinsman's, the Giant Hymir's Cows are _Icebergs_: this Hymir
"looks at the rocks" with his devil-eye, and they _split_ in the glance
of it.

Thunder was not then mere Electricity, vitreous or resinous; it was the
God Donner (Thunder) or Thor,--God also of beneficent Summer-heat. The
thunder was his wrath: the gathering of the black clouds is the drawing
down of Thor's angry brows; the fire-bolt bursting out of Heaven is
the all-rending Hammer flung from the hand of Thor: he urges his loud
chariot over the mountain-tops,--that is the peal; wrathful he "blows
in his red beard,"--that is the rustling storm-blast before the thunder
begins. Balder again, the White God, the beautiful, the just and
benignant (whom the early Christian Missionaries found to resemble
Christ), is the Sun, beautifullest of visible things; wondrous too, and
divine still, after all our Astronomies and Almanacs! But perhaps
the notablest god we hear tell of is one of whom Grimm the German
Etymologist finds trace: the God _Wunsch_, or Wish. The God _Wish_; who
could give us all that we _wished_! Is not this the sincerest and yet
rudest voice of the spirit of man? The _rudest_ ideal that man ever
formed; which still shows itself in the latest forms of our spiritual
culture. Higher considerations have to teach us that the God _Wish_ is
not the true God.

Of the other Gods or Jotuns I will mention only for etymology's sake,
that Sea-tempest is the Jotun _Aegir_, a very dangerous Jotun;--and now
to this day, on our river Trent, as I learn, the Nottingham bargemen,
when the River is in a certain flooded state (a kind of backwater, or
eddying swirl it has, very dangerous to them), call it Eager; they cry
out, "Have a care, there is the _Eager_ coming!" Curious; that word
surviving, like the peak of a submerged world! The _oldest_ Nottingham
bargemen had believed in the God Aegir. Indeed our English blood too in
good part is Danish, Norse; or rather, at bottom, Danish and Norse and
Saxon have no distinction, except a superficial one,--as of Heathen and
Christian, or the like. But all over our Island we are mingled largely
with Danes proper,--from the incessant invasions there were: and this,
of course, in a greater proportion along the east coast; and greatest of
all, as I find, in the North Country. From the Humber upwards, all over
Scotland, the Speech of the common people is still in a singular degree
Icelandic; its Germanism has still a peculiar Norse tinge. They too are
"Normans," Northmen,--if that be any great beauty--!

Of the chief god, Odin, we shall speak by and by. Mark at present so
much; what the essence of Scandinavian and indeed of all Paganism is:
a recognition of the forces of Nature as godlike, stupendous, personal
Agencies,--as Gods and Demons. Not inconceivable to us. It is the
infant Thought of man opening itself, with awe and wonder, on this
ever-stupendous Universe. To me there is in the Norse system something
very genuine, very great and manlike. A broad simplicity, rusticity, so
very different from the light gracefulness of the old Greek Paganism,
distinguishes this Scandinavian System. It is Thought; the genuine
Thought of deep, rude, earnest minds, fairly opened to the things about
them; a face-to-face and heart-to-heart inspection of the things,--the
first characteristic of all good Thought in all times. Not graceful
lightness, half-sport, as in the Greek Paganism; a certain homely
truthfulness and rustic strength, a great rude sincerity, discloses
itself here. It is strange, after our beautiful Apollo statues and clear
smiling mythuses, to come down upon the Norse Gods "brewing ale" to
hold their feast with Aegir, the Sea-Jotun; sending out Thor to get
the caldron for them in the Jotun country; Thor, after many adventures,
clapping the Pot on his head, like a huge hat, and walking off with
it,--quite lost in it, the ears of the Pot reaching down to his heels!
A kind of vacant hugeness, large awkward gianthood, characterizes that
Norse system; enormous force, as yet altogether untutored, stalking
helpless with large uncertain strides. Consider only their primary
mythus of the Creation. The Gods, having got the Giant Ymer slain, a
Giant made by "warm wind," and much confused work, out of the conflict
of Frost and Fire,--determined on constructing a world with him. His
blood made the Sea; his flesh was the Land, the Rocks his bones; of
his eyebrows they formed Asgard their Gods'-dwelling; his skull was the
great blue vault of Immensity, and the brains of it became the Clouds.
What a Hyper-Brobdignagian business! Untamed Thought, great, giantlike,
enormous;--to be tamed in due time into the compact greatness, not
giantlike, but godlike and stronger than gianthood, of the Shakspeares,
the Goethes!--Spiritually as well as bodily these men are our

I like, too, that representation they have of the tree Igdrasil. All
Life is figured by them as a Tree. Igdrasil, the Ash-tree of Existence,
has its roots deep down in the kingdoms of Hela or Death; its trunk
reaches up heaven-high, spreads its boughs over the whole Universe: it
is the Tree of Existence. At the foot of it, in the Death-kingdom, sit
Three _Nornas_, Fates,--the Past, Present, Future; watering its
roots from the Sacred Well. Its "boughs," with their buddings
and disleafings?--events, things suffered, things done,
catastrophes,--stretch through all lands and times. Is not every leaf
of it a biography, every fibre there an act or word? Its boughs are
Histories of Nations. The rustle of it is the noise of Human Existence,
onwards from of old. It grows there, the breath of Human Passion
rustling through it;--or storm tost, the storm-wind howling through it
like the voice of all the gods. It is Igdrasil, the Tree of Existence.
It is the past, the present, and the future; what was done, what is
doing, what will be done; "the infinite conjugation of the verb _To
do_." Considering how human things circulate, each inextricably in
communion with all,--how the word I speak to you to-day is borrowed,
not from Ulfila the Moesogoth only, but from all men since the first
man began to speak,--I find no similitude so true as this of a Tree.
Beautiful; altogether beautiful and great. The "_Machine_ of the
Universe,"--alas, do but think of that in contrast!

Well, it is strange enough this old Norse view of Nature; different
enough from what we believe of Nature. Whence it specially came, one
would not like to be compelled to say very minutely! One thing we may
say: It came from the thoughts of Norse men;--from the thought, above
all, of the _first_ Norse man who had an original power of thinking. The
First Norse "man of genius," as we should call him! Innumerable men had
passed by, across this Universe, with a dumb vague wonder, such as the
very animals may feel; or with a painful, fruitlessly inquiring wonder,
such as men only feel;--till the great Thinker came, the _original_ man,
the Seer; whose shaped spoken Thought awakes the slumbering capability
of all into Thought. It is ever the way with the Thinker, the spiritual
Hero. What he says, all men were not far from saying, were longing to
say. The Thoughts of all start up, as from painful enchanted sleep,
round his Thought; answering to it, Yes, even so! Joyful to men as the
dawning of day from night;--_is_ it not, indeed, the awakening for them
from no-being into being, from death into life? We still honor such a
man; call him Poet, Genius, and so forth: but to these wild men he was
a very magician, a worker of miraculous unexpected blessing for them; a
Prophet, a God!--Thought once awakened does not again slumber; unfolds
itself into a System of Thought; grows, in man after man, generation
after generation,--till its full stature is reached, and _such_ System
of Thought can grow no farther; but must give place to another.

For the Norse people, the Man now named Odin, and Chief Norse God, we
fancy, was such a man. A Teacher, and Captain of soul and of body; a
Hero, of worth immeasurable; admiration for whom, transcending the known
bounds, became adoration. Has he not the power of articulate Thinking;
and many other powers, as yet miraculous? So, with boundless gratitude,
would the rude Norse heart feel. Has he not solved for them the
sphinx-enigma of this Universe; given assurance to them of their own
destiny there? By him they know now what they have to do here, what to
look for hereafter. Existence has become articulate, melodious by him;
he first has made Life alive!--We may call this Odin, the origin of
Norse Mythology: Odin, or whatever name the First Norse Thinker bore
while he was a man among men. His view of the Universe once promulgated,
a like view starts into being in all minds; grows, keeps ever growing,
while it continues credible there. In all minds it lay written, but
invisibly, as in sympathetic ink; at his word it starts into visibility
in all. Nay, in every epoch of the world, the great event, parent of all
others, is it not the arrival of a Thinker in the world--!

One other thing we must not forget; it will explain, a little, the
confusion of these Norse Eddas. They are not one coherent System of
Thought; but properly the _summation_ of several successive systems. All
this of the old Norse Belief which is flung out for us, in one level of
distance in the Edda, like a picture painted on the same canvas, does
not at all stand so in the reality. It stands rather at all manner of
distances and depths, of successive generations since the Belief first
began. All Scandinavian thinkers, since the first of them, contributed
to that Scandinavian System of Thought; in ever-new elaboration and
addition, it is the combined work of them all. What history it had,
how it changed from shape to shape, by one thinker's contribution after
another, till it got to the full final shape we see it under in the
Edda, no man will now ever know: _its_ Councils of Trebizond, Councils
of Trent, Athanasiuses, Dantes, Luthers, are sunk without echo in the
dark night! Only that it had such a history we can all know. Wheresover
a thinker appeared, there in the thing he thought of was a contribution,
accession, a change or revolution made. Alas, the grandest "revolution"
of all, the one made by the man Odin himself, is not this too sunk for
us like the rest! Of Odin what history? Strange rather to reflect that
he _had_ a history! That this Odin, in his wild Norse vesture, with his
wild beard and eyes, his rude Norse speech and ways, was a man like us;
with our sorrows, joys, with our limbs, features;--intrinsically all one
as we: and did such a work! But the work, much of it, has perished; the
worker, all to the name. "_Wednesday_," men will say to-morrow; Odin's
day! Of Odin there exists no history; no document of it; no guess about
it worth repeating.

Snorro indeed, in the quietest manner, almost in a brief business style,
writes down, in his _Heimskringla_, how Odin was a heroic Prince, in the
Black-Sea region, with Twelve Peers, and a great people straitened for
room. How he led these _Asen_ (Asiatics) of his out of Asia; settled
them in the North parts of Europe, by warlike conquest; invented
Letters, Poetry and so forth,--and came by and by to be worshipped as
Chief God by these Scandinavians, his Twelve Peers made into Twelve
Sons of his own, Gods like himself: Snorro has no doubt of this. Saxo
Grammaticus, a very curious Northman of that same century, is still
more unhesitating; scruples not to find out a historical fact in every
individual mythus, and writes it down as a terrestrial event in Denmark
or elsewhere. Torfaeus, learned and cautious, some centuries later,
assigns by calculation a _date_ for it: Odin, he says, came into Europe
about the Year 70 before Christ. Of all which, as grounded on mere
uncertainties, found to be untenable now, I need say nothing. Far,
very far beyond the Year 70! Odin's date, adventures, whole terrestrial
history, figure and environment are sunk from us forever into unknown
thousands of years.

Nay Grimm, the German Antiquary, goes so far as to deny that any man
Odin ever existed. He proves it by etymology. The word _Wuotan_, which
is the original form of _Odin_, a word spread, as name of their chief
Divinity, over all the Teutonic Nations everywhere; this word, which
connects itself, according to Grimm, with the Latin _vadere_, with
the English _wade_ and such like,--means primarily Movement, Source of
Movement, Power; and is the fit name of the highest god, not of any man.
The word signifies Divinity, he says, among the old Saxon, German and
all Teutonic Nations; the adjectives formed from it all signify divine,
supreme, or something pertaining to the chief god. Like enough! We must
bow to Grimm in matters etymological. Let us consider it fixed that
_Wuotan_ means _Wading_, force of _Movement_. And now still, what
hinders it from being the name of a Heroic Man and _Mover_, as well as
of a god? As for the adjectives, and words formed from it,--did not the
Spaniards in their universal admiration for Lope, get into the habit of
saying "a Lope flower," "a Lope _dama_," if the flower or woman were of
surpassing beauty? Had this lasted, _Lope_ would have grown, in Spain,
to be an adjective signifying _godlike_ also. Indeed, Adam Smith, in his
Essay on Language, surmises that all adjectives whatsoever were formed
precisely in that way: some very green thing, chiefly notable for its
greenness, got the appellative name _Green_, and then the next thing
remarkable for that quality, a tree for instance, was named the _green_
tree,--as we still say "the _steam_ coach," "four-horse coach," or the
like. All primary adjectives, according to Smith, were formed in this
way; were at first substantives and things. We cannot annihilate a man
for etymologies like that! Surely there was a First Teacher and Captain;
surely there must have been an Odin, palpable to the sense at one time;
no adjective, but a real Hero of flesh and blood! The voice of all
tradition, history or echo of history, agrees with all that thought will
teach one about it, to assure us of this.

How the man Odin came to be considered a _god_, the chief god?--that
surely is a question which nobody would wish to dogmatize upon. I have
said, his people knew no _limits_ to their admiration of him; they
had as yet no scale to measure admiration by. Fancy your own generous
heart's-love of some greatest man expanding till it _transcended_ all
bounds, till it filled and overflowed the whole field of your thought!
Or what if this man Odin,--since a great deep soul, with the afflatus
and mysterious tide of vision and impulse rushing on him he knows
not whence, is ever an enigma, a kind of terror and wonder to
himself,--should have felt that perhaps _he_ was divine; that _he_
was some effluence of the "Wuotan," "_Movement_", Supreme Power
and Divinity, of whom to his rapt vision all Nature was the awful
Flame-image; that some effluence of Wuotan dwelt here in him! He was not
necessarily false; he was but mistaken, speaking the truest he knew. A
great soul, any sincere soul, knows not what he is,--alternates between
the highest height and the lowest depth; can, of all things, the least
measure--Himself! What others take him for, and what he guesses that he
may be; these two items strangely act on one another, help to determine
one another. With all men reverently admiring him; with his own wild
soul full of noble ardors and affections, of whirlwind chaotic darkness
and glorious new light; a divine Universe bursting all into godlike
beauty round him, and no man to whom the like ever had befallen, what
could he think himself to be? "Wuotan?" All men answered, "Wuotan!"--

And then consider what mere Time will do in such cases; how if a man
was great while living, he becomes tenfold greater when dead. What an
enormous _camera-obscura_ magnifier is Tradition! How a thing grows in
the human Memory, in the human Imagination, when love, worship and
all that lies in the human Heart, is there to encourage it. And in the
darkness, in the entire ignorance; without date or document, no book, no
Arundel-marble; only here and there some dumb monumental cairn. Why,
in thirty or forty years, were there no books, any great man would grow
_mythic_, the contemporaries who had seen him, being once all dead.
And in three hundred years, and in three thousand years--! To attempt
_theorizing_ on such matters would profit little: they are matters which
refuse to be _theoremed_ and diagramed; which Logic ought to know that
she _cannot_ speak of. Enough for us to discern, far in the uttermost
distance, some gleam as of a small real light shining in the centre of
that enormous camera-obscure image; to discern that the centre of it all
was not a madness and nothing, but a sanity and something.

This light, kindled in the great dark vortex of the Norse Mind, dark but
living, waiting only for light; this is to me the centre of the whole.
How such light will then shine out, and with wondrous thousand-fold
expansion spread itself, in forms and colors, depends not on _it_, so
much as on the National Mind recipient of it. The colors and forms
of your light will be those of the _cut-glass_ it has to shine
through.--Curious to think how, for every man, any the truest fact is
modelled by the nature of the man! I said, The earnest man, speaking to
his brother men, must always have stated what seemed to him a _fact_, a
real Appearance of Nature. But the way in which such Appearance or
fact shaped itself,--what sort of _fact_ it became for him,--was and
is modified by his own laws of thinking; deep, subtle, but universal,
ever-operating laws. The world of Nature, for every man, is the Fantasy
of Himself. This world is the multiplex "Image of his own Dream." Who
knows to what unnamable subtleties of spiritual law all these Pagan
Fables owe their shape! The number Twelve, divisiblest of all, which
could be halved, quartered, parted into three, into six, the most
remarkable number,--this was enough to determine the _Signs of the
Zodiac_, the number of Odin's _Sons_, and innumerable other Twelves. Any
vague rumor of number had a tendency to settle itself into Twelve. So
with regard to every other matter. And quite unconsciously too,--with no
notion of building up "Allegories "! But the fresh clear glance of those
First Ages would be prompt in discerning the secret relations of things,
and wholly open to obey these. Schiller finds in the _Cestus of
Venus_ an everlasting aesthetic truth as to the nature of all Beauty;
curious:--but he is careful not to insinuate that the old Greek Mythists
had any notion of lecturing about the "Philosophy of Criticism"!--On the
whole, we must leave those boundless regions. Cannot we conceive that
Odin was a reality? Error indeed, error enough: but sheer falsehood,
idle fables, allegory aforethought,--we will not believe that our
Fathers believed in these.

Odin's _Runes_ are a significant feature of him. Runes, and the miracles
of "magic" he worked by them, make a great feature in tradition. Runes
are the Scandinavian Alphabet; suppose Odin to have been the inventor
of Letters, as well as "magic," among that people! It is the greatest
invention man has ever made! this of marking down the unseen thought
that is in him by written characters. It is a kind of second speech,
almost as miraculous as the first. You remember the astonishment and
incredulity of Atahualpa the Peruvian King; how he made the Spanish
Soldier who was guarding him scratch _Dios_ on his thumb-nail, that he
might try the next soldier with it, to ascertain whether such a miracle
was possible. If Odin brought Letters among his people, he might work
magic enough!

Writing by Runes has some air of being original among the Norsemen: not
a Phoenician Alphabet, but a native Scandinavian one. Snorro tells us
farther that Odin invented Poetry; the music of human speech, as well as
that miraculous runic marking of it. Transport yourselves into the early
childhood of nations; the first beautiful morning-light of our Europe,
when all yet lay in fresh young radiance as of a great sunrise, and
our Europe was first beginning to think, to be! Wonder, hope; infinite
radiance of hope and wonder, as of a young child's thoughts, in the
hearts of these strong men! Strong sons of Nature; and here was not only
a wild Captain and Fighter; discerning with his wild flashing eyes what
to do, with his wild lion-heart daring and doing it; but a Poet too, all
that we mean by a Poet, Prophet, great devout Thinker and Inventor,--as
the truly Great Man ever is. A Hero is a Hero at all points; in the soul
and thought of him first of all. This Odin, in his rude semi-articulate
way, had a word to speak. A great heart laid open to take in this great
Universe, and man's Life here, and utter a great word about it. A Hero,
as I say, in his own rude manner; a wise, gifted, noble-hearted man. And
now, if we still admire such a man beyond all others, what must these
wild Norse souls, first awakened into thinking, have made of him! To
them, as yet without names for it, he was noble and noblest; Hero,
Prophet, God; _Wuotan_, the greatest of all. Thought is Thought, however
it speak or spell itself. Intrinsically, I conjecture, this Odin must
have been of the same sort of stuff as the greatest kind of men. A great
thought in the wild deep heart of him! The rough words he articulated,
are they not the rudimental roots of those English words we still use?
He worked so, in that obscure element. But he was as a _light_ kindled
in it; a light of Intellect, rude Nobleness of heart, the only kind of
lights we have yet; a Hero, as I say: and he had to shine there, and
make his obscure element a little lighter,--as is still the task of us

We will fancy him to be the Type Norseman; the finest Teuton whom that
race had yet produced. The rude Norse heart burst up into _boundless_
admiration round him; into adoration. He is as a root of so many great
things; the fruit of him is found growing from deep thousands of years,
over the whole field of Teutonic Life. Our own Wednesday, as I said, is
it not still Odin's Day? Wednesbury, Wansborough, Wanstead, Wandsworth:
Odin grew into England too, these are still leaves from that root!
He was the Chief God to all the Teutonic Peoples; their Pattern
Norseman;--in such way did _they_ admire their Pattern Norseman; that
was the fortune he had in the world.

Thus if the man Odin himself have vanished utterly, there is this huge
Shadow of him which still projects itself over the whole History of his
People. For this Odin once admitted to be God, we can understand well
that the whole Scandinavian Scheme of Nature, or dim No-scheme, whatever
it might before have been, would now begin to develop itself altogether
differently, and grow thenceforth in a new manner. What this Odin saw
into, and taught with his runes and his rhymes, the whole Teutonic
People laid to heart and carried forward. His way of thought became
their way of thought:--such, under new conditions, is the history of
every great thinker still. In gigantic confused lineaments, like some
enormous camera-obscure shadow thrown upwards from the dead deeps of the
Past, and covering the whole Northern Heaven, is not that Scandinavian
Mythology in some sort the Portraiture of this man Odin? The gigantic
image of _his_ natural face, legible or not legible there, expanded and
confused in that manner! Ah, Thought, I say, is always Thought. No great
man lives in vain. The History of the world is but the Biography of
great men.

To me there is something very touching in this primeval figure of
Heroism; in such artless, helpless, but hearty entire reception of a
Hero by his fellow-men. Never so helpless in shape, it is the noblest of
feelings, and a feeling in some shape or other perennial as man himself.
If I could show in any measure, what I feel deeply for a long time now,
That it is the vital element of manhood, the soul of man's history here
in our world,--it would be the chief use of this discoursing at present.
We do not now call our great men Gods, nor admire _without_ limit; ah
no, _with_ limit enough! But if we have no great men, or do not admire
at all,--that were a still worse case.

This poor Scandinavian Hero-worship, that whole Norse way of looking at
the Universe, and adjusting oneself there, has an indestructible merit
for us. A rude childlike way of recognizing the divineness of Nature,
the divineness of Man; most rude, yet heartfelt, robust, giantlike;
betokening what a giant of a man this child would yet grow to!--It was
a truth, and is none. Is it not as the half-dumb stifled voice of the
long-buried generations of our own Fathers, calling out of the depths of
ages to us, in whose veins their blood still runs: "This then, this is
what we made of the world: this is all the image and notion we could
form to ourselves of this great mystery of a Life and Universe. Despise
it not. You are raised high above it, to large free scope of vision; but
you too are not yet at the top. No, your notion too, so much enlarged,
is but a partial, imperfect one; that matter is a thing no man will
ever, in time or out of time, comprehend; after thousands of years of
ever-new expansion, man will find himself but struggling to comprehend
again a part of it: the thing is larger shall man, not to be
comprehended by him; an Infinite thing!"

The essence of the Scandinavian, as indeed of all Pagan Mythologies, we
found to be recognition of the divineness of Nature; sincere communion
of man with the mysterious invisible Powers visibly seen at work in
the world round him. This, I should say, is more sincerely done in
the Scandinavian than in any Mythology I know. Sincerity is the great
characteristic of it. Superior sincerity (far superior) consoles us for
the total want of old Grecian grace. Sincerity, I think, is better than
grace. I feel that these old Northmen wore looking into Nature with open
eye and soul: most earnest, honest; childlike, and yet manlike; with
a great-hearted simplicity and depth and freshness, in a true, loving,
admiring, unfearing way. A right valiant, true old race of men. Such
recognition of Nature one finds to be the chief element of Paganism;
recognition of Man, and his Moral Duty, though this too is not wanting,
comes to be the chief element only in purer forms of religion. Here,
indeed, is a great distinction and epoch in Human Beliefs; a great
landmark in the religious development of Mankind. Man first puts himself
in relation with Nature and her Powers, wonders and worships over those;
not till a later epoch does he discern that all Power is Moral, that the
grand point is the distinction for him of Good and Evil, of _Thou shalt_
and _Thou shalt not_.

With regard to all these fabulous delineations in the _Edda_, I will
remark, moreover, as indeed was already hinted, that most probably they
must have been of much newer date; most probably, even from the first,
were comparatively idle for the old Norsemen, and as it were a kind of
Poetic sport. Allegory and Poetic Delineation, as I said above, cannot
be religious Faith; the Faith itself must first be there, then Allegory
enough will gather round it, as the fit body round its soul. The Norse
Faith, I can well suppose, like other Faiths, was most active while
it lay mainly in the silent state, and had not yet much to say about
itself, still less to sing.

Among those shadowy _Edda_ matters, amid all that fantastic congeries
of assertions, and traditions, in their musical Mythologies, the main
practical belief a man could have was probably not much more than this:
of the _Valkyrs_ and the _Hall of Odin_; of an inflexible _Destiny_; and
that the one thing needful for a man was _to be brave_. The _Valkyrs_
are Choosers of the Slain: a Destiny inexorable, which it is useless
trying to bend or soften, has appointed who is to be slain; this was
a fundamental point for the Norse believer;--as indeed it is for all
earnest men everywhere, for a Mahomet, a Luther, for a Napoleon too. It
lies at the basis this for every such man; it is the woof out of which
his whole system of thought is woven. The _Valkyrs_; and then that these
_Choosers_ lead the brave to a heavenly _Hall of Odin_; only the base
and slavish being thrust elsewhither, into the realms of Hela the
Death-goddess: I take this to have been the soul of the whole Norse
Belief. They understood in their heart that it was indispensable to be
brave; that Odin would have no favor for them, but despise and thrust
them out, if they were not brave. Consider too whether there is not
something in this! It is an everlasting duty, valid in our day as in
that, the duty of being brave. _Valor_ is still _value_. The first duty
for a man is still that of subduing _Fear_. We must get rid of Fear;
we cannot act at all till then. A man's acts are slavish, not true but
specious; his very thoughts are false, he thinks too as a slave and
coward, till he have got Fear under his feet. Odin's creed, if we
disentangle the real kernel of it, is true to this hour. A man shall
and must be valiant; he must march forward, and quit himself like a
man,--trusting imperturbably in the appointment and _choice_ of the
upper Powers; and, on the whole, not fear at all. Now and always, the
completeness of his victory over Fear will determine how much of a man
he is.

It is doubtless very savage that kind of valor of the old Northmen.
Snorro tells us they thought it a shame and misery not to die in battle;
and if natural death seemed to be coming on, they would cut wounds in
their flesh, that Odin might receive them as warriors slain. Old kings,
about to die, had their body laid into a ship; the ship sent forth,
with sails set and slow fire burning it; that, once out at sea, it might
blaze up in flame, and in such manner bury worthily the old hero, at
once in the sky and in the ocean! Wild bloody valor; yet valor of
its kind; better, I say, than none. In the old Sea-kings too, what an
indomitable rugged energy! Silent, with closed lips, as I fancy them,
unconscious that they were specially brave; defying the wild ocean with
its monsters, and all men and things;--progenitors of our own Blakes
and Nelsons! No Homer sang these Norse Sea-kings; but Agamemnon's was
a small audacity, and of small fruit in the world, to some of them;--to
Hrolf's of Normandy, for instance! Hrolf, or Rollo Duke of Normandy, the
wild Sea-king, has a share in governing England at this hour.

Nor was it altogether nothing, even that wild sea-roving and battling,
through so many generations. It needed to be ascertained which was
the _strongest_ kind of men; who were to be ruler over whom. Among the
Northland Sovereigns, too, I find some who got the title _Wood-cutter_;
Forest-felling Kings. Much lies in that. I suppose at bottom many of
them were forest-fellers as well as fighters, though the Skalds talk
mainly of the latter,--misleading certain critics not a little; for no
nation of men could ever live by fighting alone; there could not produce
enough come out of that! I suppose the right good fighter was oftenest
also the right good forest-feller,--the right good improver, discerner,
doer and worker in every kind; for true valor, different enough from
ferocity, is the basis of all. A more legitimate kind of valor that;
showing itself against the untamed Forests and dark brute Powers of
Nature, to conquer Nature for us. In the same direction have not we
their descendants since carried it far? May such valor last forever with

That the man Odin, speaking with a Hero's voice and heart, as with an
impressiveness out of Heaven, told his People the infinite importance
of Valor, how man thereby became a god; and that his People, feeling a
response to it in their own hearts, believed this message of his, and
thought it a message out of Heaven, and him a Divinity for telling it
them: this seems to me the primary seed-grain of the Norse Religion,
from which all manner of mythologies, symbolic practices, speculations,
allegories, songs and sagas would naturally grow. Grow,--how strangely!
I called it a small light shining and shaping in the huge vortex of
Norse darkness. Yet the darkness itself was _alive_; consider that. It
was the eager inarticulate uninstructed Mind of the whole Norse People,
longing only to become articulate, to go on articulating ever farther!
The living doctrine grows, grows;--like a Banyan-tree; the first _seed_
is the essential thing: any branch strikes itself down into the earth,
becomes a new root; and so, in endless complexity, we have a whole wood,
a whole jungle, one seed the parent of it all. Was not the whole Norse
Religion, accordingly, in some sense, what we called "the enormous
shadow of this man's likeness"? Critics trace some affinity in some
Norse mythuses, of the Creation and such like, with those of the
Hindoos. The Cow Adumbla, "licking the rime from the rocks," has a
kind of Hindoo look. A Hindoo Cow, transported into frosty countries.
Probably enough; indeed we may say undoubtedly, these things will have
a kindred with the remotest lands, with the earliest times. Thought does
not die, but only is changed. The first man that began to think in this
Planet of ours, he was the beginner of all. And then the second man, and
the third man;--nay, every true Thinker to this hour is a kind of Odin,
teaches men _his_ way of thought, spreads a shadow of his own likeness
over sections of the History of the World.

Of the distinctive poetic character or merit of this Norse Mythology
I have not room to speak; nor does it concern us much. Some wild
Prophecies we have, as the _Voluspa_ in the _Elder Edda_; of a rapt,
earnest, sibylline sort. But they were comparatively an idle adjunct of
the matter, men who as it were but toyed with the matter, these
later Skalds; and it is _their_ songs chiefly that survive. In later
centuries, I suppose, they would go on singing, poetically symbolizing,
as our modern Painters paint, when it was no longer from the innermost
heart, or not from the heart at all. This is everywhere to be well kept
in mind.

Gray's fragments of Norse Lore, at any rate, will give one no notion
of it;--any more than Pope will of Homer. It is no square-built gloomy
palace of black ashlar marble, shrouded in awe and horror, as Gray gives
it us: no; rough as the North rocks, as the Iceland deserts, it is; with
a heartiness, homeliness, even a tint of good humor and robust mirth in
the middle of these fearful things. The strong old Norse heart did not
go upon theatrical sublimities; they had not time to tremble. I like
much their robust simplicity; their veracity, directness of conception.
Thor "draws down his brows" in a veritable Norse rage; "grasps his
hammer till the _knuckles grow white_." Beautiful traits of pity too, an
honest pity. Balder "the white God" dies; the beautiful, benignant; he
is the Sungod. They try all Nature for a remedy; but he is dead. Frigga,
his mother, sends Hermoder to seek or see him: nine days and nine nights
he rides through gloomy deep valleys, a labyrinth of gloom; arrives at
the Bridge with its gold roof: the Keeper says, "Yes, Balder did pass
here; but the Kingdom of the Dead is down yonder, far towards the
North." Hermoder rides on; leaps Hell-gate, Hela's gate; does see
Balder, and speak with him: Balder cannot be delivered. Inexorable! Hela
will not, for Odin or any God, give him up. The beautiful and gentle has
to remain there. His Wife had volunteered to go with him, to die with
him. They shall forever remain there. He sends his ring to Odin; Nanna
his wife sends her _thimble_ to Frigga, as a remembrance.--Ah me--!

For indeed Valor is the fountain of Pity too;--of Truth, and all that
is great and good in man. The robust homely vigor of the Norse heart
attaches one much, in these delineations. Is it not a trait of right
honest strength, says Uhland, who has written a fine _Essay_ on Thor,
that the old Norse heart finds its friend in the Thunder-god? That it
is not frightened away by his thunder; but finds that Summer-heat, the
beautiful noble summer, must and will have thunder withal! The Norse
heart _loves_ this Thor and his hammer-bolt; sports with him. Thor is
Summer-heat: the god of Peaceable Industry as well as Thunder. He is the
Peasant's friend; his true henchman and attendant is Thialfi, _Manual
Labor_. Thor himself engages in all manner of rough manual work, scorns
no business for its plebeianism; is ever and anon travelling to the
country of the Jotuns, harrying those chaotic Frost-monsters, subduing
them, at least straitening and damaging them. There is a great broad
humor in some of these things.

Thor, as we saw above, goes to Jotun-land, to seek Hymir's Caldron, that
the Gods may brew beer. Hymir the huge Giant enters, his gray beard
all full of hoar-frost; splits pillars with the very glance of his eye;
Thor, after much rough tumult, snatches the Pot, claps it on his head;
the "handles of it reach down to his heels." The Norse Skald has a kind
of loving sport with Thor. This is the Hymir whose cattle, the
critics have discovered, are Icebergs. Huge untutored Brobdignag
genius,--needing only to be tamed down; into Shakspeares, Dantes,
Goethes! It is all gone now, that old Norse work,--Thor the Thunder-god
changed into Jack the Giant-killer: but the mind that made it is here
yet. How strangely things grow, and die, and do not die! There are twigs
of that great world-tree of Norse Belief still curiously traceable. This
poor Jack of the Nursery, with his miraculous shoes of swiftness, coat
of darkness, sword of sharpness, he is one. _Hynde Etin_, and still more
decisively _Red Etin of Ireland_, _in_ the Scottish Ballads, these
are both derived from Norseland; _Etin_ is evidently a _Jotun_. Nay,
Shakspeare's _Hamlet_ is a twig too of this same world-tree; there seems
no doubt of that. Hamlet, _Amleth_ I find, is really a mythic personage;
and his Tragedy, of the poisoned Father, poisoned asleep by drops in his
ear, and the rest, is a Norse mythus! Old Saxo, as his wont was, made it
a Danish history; Shakspeare, out of Saxo, made it what we see. That
is a twig of the world-tree that has _grown_, I think;--by nature or
accident that one has grown!

In fact, these old Norse songs have a _truth_ in them, an inward
perennial truth and greatness,--as, indeed, all must have that can very
long preserve itself by tradition alone. It is a greatness not of mere
body and gigantic bulk, but a rude greatness of soul. There is a sublime
uncomplaining melancholy traceable in these old hearts. A great free
glance into the very deeps of thought. They seem to have seen, these
brave old Northmen, what Meditation has taught all men in all ages, That
this world is after all but a show,--a phenomenon or appearance, no real
thing. All deep souls see into that,--the Hindoo Mythologist, the German
Philosopher,--the Shakspeare, the earnest Thinker, wherever he may be:

     "We are such stuff as Dreams are made of!"

One of Thor's expeditions, to Utgard (the _Outer_ Garden, central seat
of Jotun-land), is remarkable in this respect. Thialfi was with him, and
Loke. After various adventures, they entered upon Giant-land; wandered
over plains, wild uncultivated places, among stones and trees. At
nightfall they noticed a house; and as the door, which indeed formed
one whole side of the house, was open, they entered. It was a simple
habitation; one large hall, altogether empty. They stayed there.
Suddenly in the dead of the night loud noises alarmed them. Thor grasped
his hammer; stood in the door, prepared for fight. His companions within
ran hither and thither in their terror, seeking some outlet in that rude
hall; they found a little closet at last, and took refuge there. Neither
had Thor any battle: for, lo, in the morning it turned out that the
noise had been only the _snoring_ of a certain enormous but peaceable
Giant, the Giant Skrymir, who lay peaceably sleeping near by; and this
that they took for a house was merely his _Glove_, thrown aside there;
the door was the Glove-wrist; the little closet they had fled into was
the Thumb! Such a glove;--I remark too that it had not fingers as ours
have, but only a thumb, and the rest undivided: a most ancient, rustic

Skrymir now carried their portmanteau all day; Thor, however, had his
own suspicions, did not like the ways of Skrymir; determined at night to
put an end to him as he slept. Raising his hammer, he struck down into
the Giant's face a right thunder-bolt blow, of force to rend rocks. The
Giant merely awoke; rubbed his cheek, and said, Did a leaf fall? Again
Thor struck, so soon as Skrymir again slept; a better blow than before;
but the Giant only murmured, Was that a grain of sand? Thor's third
stroke was with both his hands (the "knuckles white" I suppose), and
seemed to dint deep into Skrymir's visage; but he merely checked his
snore, and remarked, There must be sparrows roosting in this tree, I
think; what is that they have dropt?--At the gate of Utgard, a place so
high that you had to "strain your neck bending back to see the top
of it," Skrymir went his ways. Thor and his companions were admitted;
invited to take share in the games going on. To Thor, for his part, they
handed a Drinking-horn; it was a common feat, they told him, to drink
this dry at one draught. Long and fiercely, three times over, Thor
drank; but made hardly any impression. He was a weak child, they told
him: could he lift that Cat he saw there? Small as the feat seemed, Thor
with his whole godlike strength could not; he bent up the creature's
back, could not raise its feet off the ground, could at the utmost raise
one foot. Why, you are no man, said the Utgard people; there is an Old
Woman that will wrestle you! Thor, heartily ashamed, seized this haggard
Old Woman; but could not throw her.

And now, on their quitting Utgard, the chief Jotun, escorting them
politely a little way, said to Thor: "You are beaten then:--yet be not
so much ashamed; there was deception of appearance in it. That Horn you
tried to drink was the _Sea_; you did make it ebb; but who could drink
that, the bottomless! The Cat you would have lifted,--why, that is the
_Midgard-snake_, the Great World-serpent, which, tail in mouth, girds
and keeps up the whole created world; had you torn that up, the world
must have rushed to ruin! As for the Old Woman, she was _Time_, Old Age,
Duration: with her what can wrestle? No man nor no god with her; gods
or men, she prevails over all! And then those three strokes you
struck,--look at these _three valleys_; your three strokes made these!"
Thor looked at his attendant Jotun: it was Skrymir;--it was, say Norse
critics, the old chaotic rocky _Earth_ in person, and that glove-_house_
was some Earth-cavern! But Skrymir had vanished; Utgard with its
sky-high gates, when Thor grasped his hammer to smite them, had gone to
air; only the Giant's voice was heard mocking: "Better come no more to

This is of the allegoric period, as we see, and half play, not of the
prophetic and entirely devout: but as a mythus is there not real antique
Norse gold in it? More true metal, rough from the Mimer-stithy, than in
many a famed Greek Mythus _shaped_ far better! A great broad Brobdignag
grin of true humor is in this Skrymir; mirth resting on earnestness and
sadness, as the rainbow on black tempest: only a right valiant heart is
capable of that. It is the grim humor of our own Ben Jonson, rare old
Ben; runs in the blood of us, I fancy; for one catches tones of it,
under a still other shape, out of the American Backwoods.

That is also a very striking conception that of the _Ragnarok_,
Consummation, or _Twilight of the Gods_. It is in the _Voluspa_ Song;
seemingly a very old, prophetic idea. The Gods and Jotuns, the divine
Powers and the chaotic brute ones, after long contest and partial
victory by the former, meet at last in universal world-embracing
wrestle and duel; World-serpent against Thor, strength against strength;
mutually extinctive; and ruin, "twilight" sinking into darkness,
swallows the created Universe. The old Universe with its Gods is sunk;
but it is not final death: there is to be a new Heaven and a new Earth;
a higher supreme God, and Justice to reign among men. Curious: this law
of mutation, which also is a law written in man's inmost thought, had
been deciphered by these old earnest Thinkers in their rude style; and
how, though all dies, and even gods die, yet all death is but a phoenix
fire-death, and new-birth into the Greater and the Better! It is the
fundamental Law of Being for a creature made of Time, living in this
Place of Hope. All earnest men have seen into it; may still see into it.

And now, connected with this, let us glance at the _last_ mythus of the
appearance of Thor; and end there. I fancy it to be the latest in
date of all these fables; a sorrowing protest against the advance of
Christianity,--set forth reproachfully by some Conservative Pagan.
King Olaf has been harshly blamed for his over-zeal in introducing
Christianity; surely I should have blamed him far more for an under-zeal
in that! He paid dear enough for it; he died by the revolt of his
Pagan people, in battle, in the year 1033, at Stickelstad, near that
Drontheim, where the chief Cathedral of the North has now stood for
many centuries, dedicated gratefully to his memory as _Saint_ Olaf. The
mythus about Thor is to this effect. King Olaf, the Christian Reform
King, is sailing with fit escort along the shore of Norway, from haven
to haven; dispensing justice, or doing other royal work: on leaving a
certain haven, it is found that a stranger, of grave eyes and aspect,
red beard, of stately robust figure, has stept in. The courtiers address
him; his answers surprise by their pertinency and depth: at length he
is brought to the King. The stranger's conversation here is not less
remarkable, as they sail along the beautiful shore; but after some time,
he addresses King Olaf thus: "Yes, King Olaf, it is all beautiful, with
the sun shining on it there; green, fruitful, a right fair home for you;
and many a sore day had Thor, many a wild fight with the rock Jotuns,
before he could make it so. And now you seem minded to put away Thor.
King Olaf, have a care!" said the stranger, drawing down his brows;--and
when they looked again, he was nowhere to be found.--This is the last
appearance of Thor on the stage of this world!

Do we not see well enough how the Fable might arise, without unveracity
on the part of any one? It is the way most Gods have come to appear
among men: thus, if in Pindar's time "Neptune was seen once at the
Nemean Games," what was this Neptune too but a "stranger of noble grave
aspect,"--fit to be "seen"! There is something pathetic, tragic for me
in this last voice of Paganism. Thor is vanished, the whole Norse world
has vanished; and will not return ever again. In like fashion to that,
pass away the highest things. All things that have been in this world,
all things that are or will be in it, have to vanish: we have our sad
farewell to give them.

That Norse Religion, a rude but earnest, sternly impressive
_Consecration of Valor_ (so we may define it), sufficed for these old
valiant Northmen. Consecration of Valor is not a bad thing! We will take
it for good, so far as it goes. Neither is there no use in _knowing_
something about this old Paganism of our Fathers. Unconsciously, and
combined with higher things, it is in us yet, that old Faith withal! To
know it consciously, brings us into closer and clearer relation with the
Past,--with our own possessions in the Past. For the whole Past, as I
keep repeating, is the possession of the Present; the Past had always
something _true_, and is a precious possession. In a different time, in
a different place, it is always some other _side_ of our common Human
Nature that has been developing itself. The actual True is the sum
of all these; not any one of them by itself constitutes what of Human
Nature is hitherto developed. Better to know them all than misknow them.
"To which of these Three Religions do you specially adhere?" inquires
Meister of his Teacher. "To all the Three!" answers the other: "To all
the Three; for they by their union first constitute the True Religion."


[May 8, 1840.]

From the first rude times of Paganism among the Scandinavians in the
North, we advance to a very different epoch of religion, among a very
different people: Mahometanism among the Arabs. A great change; what a
change and progress is indicated here, in the universal condition and
thoughts of men!

The Hero is not now regarded as a God among his fellowmen; but as one
God-inspired, as a Prophet. It is the second phasis of Hero-worship:
the first or oldest, we may say, has passed away without return; in the
history of the world there will not again be any man, never so great,
whom his fellowmen will take for a god. Nay we might rationally ask,
Did any set of human beings ever really think the man they _saw_ there
standing beside them a god, the maker of this world? Perhaps not: it was
usually some man they remembered, or _had_ seen. But neither can this
any more be. The Great Man is not recognized henceforth as a god any

It was a rude gross error, that of counting the Great Man a god. Yet let
us say that it is at all times difficult to know _what_ he is, or how
to account of him and receive him! The most significant feature in the
history of an epoch is the manner it has of welcoming a Great Man. Ever,
to the true instincts of men, there is something godlike in him. Whether
they shall take him to be a god, to be a prophet, or what they shall
take him to be? that is ever a grand question; by their way of answering
that, we shall see, as through a little window, into the very heart
of these men's spiritual condition. For at bottom the Great Man, as he
comes from the hand of Nature, is ever the same kind of thing: Odin,
Luther, Johnson, Burns; I hope to make it appear that these are all
originally of one stuff; that only by the world's reception of them, and
the shapes they assume, are they so immeasurably diverse. The worship
of Odin astonishes us,--to fall prostrate before the Great Man, into
_deliquium_ of love and wonder over him, and feel in their hearts that
he was a denizen of the skies, a god! This was imperfect enough: but
to welcome, for example, a Burns as we did, was that what we can call
perfect? The most precious gift that Heaven can give to the Earth; a man
of "genius" as we call it; the Soul of a Man actually sent down from
the skies with a God's-message to us,--this we waste away as an idle
artificial firework, sent to amuse us a little, and sink it into ashes,
wreck and ineffectuality: _such_ reception of a Great Man I do not
call very perfect either! Looking into the heart of the thing, one may
perhaps call that of Burns a still uglier phenomenon, betokening still
sadder imperfections in mankind's ways, than the Scandinavian
method itself! To fall into mere unreasoning _deliquium_ of love
and admiration, was not good; but such unreasoning, nay irrational
supercilious no-love at all is perhaps still worse!--It is a thing
forever changing, this of Hero-worship: different in each age, difficult
to do well in any age. Indeed, the heart of the whole business of the
age, one may say, is to do it well.

We have chosen Mahomet not as the most eminent Prophet; but as the one
we are freest to speak of. He is by no means the truest of Prophets;
but I do esteem him a true one. Farther, as there is no danger of our
becoming, any of us, Mahometans, I mean to say all the good of him I
justly can. It is the way to get at his secret: let us try to understand
what _he_ meant with the world; what the world meant and means with him,
will then be a more answerable question. Our current hypothesis about
Mahomet, that he was a scheming Impostor, a Falsehood incarnate, that
his religion is a mere mass of quackery and fatuity, begins really to be
now untenable to any one. The lies, which well-meaning zeal has heaped
round this man, are disgraceful to ourselves only. When Pococke inquired
of Grotius, Where the proof was of that story of the pigeon, trained to
pick peas from Mahomet's ear, and pass for an angel dictating to him?
Grotius answered that there was no proof! It is really time to dismiss
all that. The word this man spoke has been the life-guidance now of a
hundred and eighty millions of men these twelve hundred years. These
hundred and eighty millions were made by God as well as we. A greater
number of God's creatures believe in Mahomet's word at this hour, than
in any other word whatever. Are we to suppose that it was a miserable
piece of spiritual legerdemain, this which so many creatures of the
Almighty have lived by and died by? I, for my part, cannot form any such
supposition. I will believe most things sooner than that. One would be
entirely at a loss what to think of this world at all, if quackery so
grew and were sanctioned here.

Alas, such theories are very lamentable. If we would attain to knowledge
of anything in God's true Creation, let us disbelieve them wholly!
They are the product of an Age of Scepticism: they indicate the saddest
spiritual paralysis, and mere death-life of the souls of men: more
godless theory, I think, was never promulgated in this Earth. A false
man found a religion? Why, a false man cannot build a brick house! If
he do not know and follow truly the properties of mortar, burnt clay and
what else be works in, it is no house that he makes, but a rubbish-heap.
It will not stand for twelve centuries, to lodge a hundred and eighty
millions; it will fall straightway. A man must conform himself to
Nature's laws, _be_ verily in communion with Nature and the truth of
things, or Nature will answer him, No, not at all! Speciosities
are specious--ah me!--a Cagliostro, many Cagliostros, prominent
world-leaders, do prosper by their quackery, for a day. It is like a
forged bank-note; they get it passed out of _their_ worthless hands:
others, not they, have to smart for it. Nature bursts up in fire-flames,
French Revolutions and such like, proclaiming with terrible veracity
that forged notes are forged.

But of a Great Man especially, of him I will venture to assert that it
is incredible he should have been other than true. It seems to me the
primary foundation of him, and of all that can lie in him, this. No
Mirabeau, Napoleon, Burns, Cromwell, no man adequate to do anything, but
is first of all in right earnest about it; what I call a sincere man. I
should say _sincerity_, a deep, great, genuine sincerity, is the first
characteristic of all men in any way heroic. Not the sincerity that
calls itself sincere; ah no, that is a very poor matter indeed;--a
shallow braggart conscious sincerity; oftenest self-conceit mainly.
The Great Man's sincerity is of the kind he cannot speak of, is not
conscious of: nay, I suppose, he is conscious rather of insincerity; for
what man can walk accurately by the law of truth for one day? No, the
Great Man does not boast himself sincere, far from that; perhaps does
not ask himself if he is so: I would say rather, his sincerity does
not depend on himself; he cannot help being sincere! The great Fact
of Existence is great to him. Fly as he will, he cannot get out of the
awful presence of this Reality. His mind is so made; he is great by
that, first of all. Fearful and wonderful, real as Life, real as Death,
is this Universe to him. Though all men should forget its truth, and
walk in a vain show, he cannot. At all moments the Flame-image glares
in upon him; undeniable, there, there!--I wish you to take this as my
primary definition of a Great Man. A little man may have this, it
is competent to all men that God has made: but a Great Man cannot be
without it.

Such a man is what we call an _original_ man; he comes to us at
first-hand. A messenger he, sent from the Infinite Unknown with tidings
to us. We may call him Poet, Prophet, God;--in one way or other, we all
feel that the words he utters are as no other man's words. Direct from
the Inner Fact of things;--he lives, and has to live, in daily communion
with that. Hearsays cannot hide it from him; he is blind, homeless,
miserable, following hearsays; _it_ glares in upon him. Really his
utterances, are they not a kind of "revelation;"--what we must call such
for want of some other name? It is from the heart of the world that he
comes; he is portion of the primal reality of things. God has made many
revelations: but this man too, has not God made him, the latest
and newest of all? The "inspiration of the Almighty giveth him
understanding:" we must listen before all to him.

This Mahomet, then, we will in no wise consider as an Inanity and
Theatricality, a poor conscious ambitious schemer; we cannot conceive
him so. The rude message he delivered was a real one withal; an earnest
confused voice from the unknown Deep. The man's words were not false,
nor his workings here below; no Inanity and Simulacrum; a fiery mass
of Life cast up from the great bosom of Nature herself. To _kindle_
the world; the world's Maker had ordered it so. Neither can the faults,
imperfections, insincerities even, of Mahomet, if such were never so
well proved against him, shake this primary fact about him.

On the whole, we make too much of faults; the details of the business
hide the real centre of it. Faults? The greatest of faults, I should
say, is to be conscious of none. Readers of the Bible above all, one
would think, might know better. Who is called there "the man according
to God's own heart"? David, the Hebrew King, had fallen into sins
enough; blackest crimes; there was no want of sins. And thereupon the
unbelievers sneer and ask, Is this your man according to God's heart?
The sneer, I must say, seems to me but a shallow one. What are faults,
what are the outward details of a life; if the inner secret of it, the
remorse, temptations, true, often-baffled, never-ended struggle of it,
be forgotten? "It is not in man that walketh to direct his steps." Of
all acts, is not, for a man, _repentance_ the most divine? The deadliest
sin, I say, were that same supercilious consciousness of no sin;--that
is death; the heart so conscious is divorced from sincerity, humility
and fact; is dead: it is "pure" as dead dry sand is pure. David's life
and history, as written for us in those Psalms of his, I consider to be
the truest emblem ever given of a man's moral progress and warfare here
below. All earnest souls will ever discern in it the faithful struggle
of an earnest human soul towards what is good and best. Struggle often
baffled, sore baffled, down as into entire wreck; yet a struggle never
ended; ever, with tears, repentance, true unconquerable purpose, begun
anew. Poor human nature! Is not a man's walking, in truth, always that:
"a succession of falls"? Man can do no other. In this wild element of
a Life, he has to struggle onwards; now fallen, deep-abased; and ever,
with tears, repentance, with bleeding heart, he has to rise again,
struggle again still onwards. That his struggle _be_ a faithful
unconquerable one: that is the question of questions. We will put
up with many sad details, if the soul of it were true. Details by
themselves will never teach us what it is. I believe we misestimate
Mahomet's faults even as faults: but the secret of him will never be
got by dwelling there. We will leave all this behind us; and assuring
ourselves that he did mean some true thing, ask candidly what it was or
might be.

These Arabs Mahomet was born among are certainly a notable people. Their
country itself is notable; the fit habitation for such a race. Savage
inaccessible rock-mountains, great grim deserts, alternating with
beautiful strips of verdure: wherever water is, there is greenness,
beauty; odoriferous balm-shrubs, date-trees, frankincense-trees.
Consider that wide waste horizon of sand, empty, silent, like a
sand-sea, dividing habitable place from habitable. You are all alone
there, left alone with the Universe; by day a fierce sun blazing down
on it with intolerable radiance; by night the great deep Heaven with its
stars. Such a country is fit for a swift-handed, deep-hearted race of
men. There is something most agile, active, and yet most meditative,
enthusiastic in the Arab character. The Persians are called the French
of the East; we will call the Arabs Oriental Italians. A gifted noble
people; a people of wild strong feelings, and of iron restraint over
these: the characteristic of noble-mindedness, of genius. The wild
Bedouin welcomes the stranger to his tent, as one having right to all
that is there; were it his worst enemy, he will slay his foal to treat
him, will serve him with sacred hospitality for three days, will set him
fairly on his way;--and then, by another law as sacred, kill him if
he can. In words too as in action. They are not a loquacious people,
taciturn rather; but eloquent, gifted when they do speak. An earnest,
truthful kind of men. They are, as we know, of Jewish kindred: but
with that deadly terrible earnestness of the Jews they seem to combine
something graceful, brilliant, which is not Jewish. They had "Poetic
contests" among them before the time of Mahomet. Sale says, at Ocadh,
in the South of Arabia, there were yearly fairs, and there, when the
merchandising was done, Poets sang for prizes:--the wild people gathered
to hear that.

One Jewish quality these Arabs manifest; the outcome of many or of all
high qualities: what we may call religiosity. From of old they had
been zealous worshippers, according to their light. They worshipped the
stars, as Sabeans; worshipped many natural objects,--recognized them as
symbols, immediate manifestations, of the Maker of Nature. It was wrong;
and yet not wholly wrong. All God's works are still in a sense symbols
of God. Do we not, as I urged, still account it a merit to recognize a
certain inexhaustible significance, "poetic beauty" as we name it, in
all natural objects whatsoever? A man is a poet, and honored, for doing
that, and speaking or singing it,--a kind of diluted worship. They had
many Prophets, these Arabs; Teachers each to his tribe, each according
to the light he had. But indeed, have we not from of old the noblest
of proofs, still palpable to every one of us, of what devoutness and
noble-mindedness had dwelt in these rustic thoughtful peoples? Biblical
critics seem agreed that our own _Book of Job_ was written in that
region of the world. I call that, apart from all theories about it, one
of the grandest things ever written with pen. One feels, indeed, as
if it were not Hebrew; such a noble universality, different from noble
patriotism or sectarianism, reigns in it. A noble Book; all men's Book!
It is our first, oldest statement of the never-ending Problem,--man's
destiny, and God's ways with him here in this earth. And all in such
free flowing outlines; grand in its sincerity, in its simplicity; in its
epic melody, and repose of reconcilement. There is the seeing eye,
the mildly understanding heart. So _true_ every way; true eyesight
and vision for all things; material things no less than spiritual: the
Horse,--"hast thou clothed his neck with _thunder_?"--he "_laughs_
at the shaking of the spear!" Such living likenesses were never since
drawn. Sublime sorrow, sublime reconciliation; oldest choral melody as
of the heart of mankind;--so soft, and great; as the summer midnight, as
the world with its seas and stars! There is nothing written, I think, in
the Bible or out of it, of equal literary merit.--

To the idolatrous Arabs one of the most ancient universal objects of
worship was that Black Stone, still kept in the building called Caabah,
at Mecca. Diodorus Siculus mentions this Caabah in a way not to be
mistaken, as the oldest, most honored temple in his time; that is,
some half-century before our Era. Silvestre de Sacy says there is some
likelihood that the Black Stone is an aerolite. In that case, some man
might _see_ it fall out of Heaven! It stands now beside the Well Zemzem;
the Caabah is built over both. A Well is in all places a beautiful
affecting object, gushing out like life from the hard earth;--still more
so in those hot dry countries, where it is the first condition of being.
The Well Zemzem has its name from the bubbling sound of the waters,
_zem-zem_; they think it is the Well which Hagar found with her little
Ishmael in the wilderness: the aerolite and it have been sacred now, and
had a Caabah over them, for thousands of years. A curious object, that
Caabah! There it stands at this hour, in the black cloth-covering the
Sultan sends it yearly; "twenty-seven cubits high;" with circuit,
with double circuit of pillars, with festoon-rows of lamps and quaint
ornaments: the lamps will be lighted again _this_ night,--to glitter
again under the stars. An authentic fragment of the oldest Past. It is
the _Keblah_ of all Moslem: from Delhi all onwards to Morocco, the eyes
of innumerable praying men are turned towards it, five times, this day
and all days: one of the notablest centres in the Habitation of Men.

It had been from the sacredness attached to this Caabah Stone and
Hagar's Well, from the pilgrimings of all tribes of Arabs thither, that
Mecca took its rise as a Town. A great town once, though much decayed
now. It has no natural advantage for a town; stands in a sandy hollow
amid bare barren hills, at a distance from the sea; its provisions, its
very bread, have to be imported. But so many pilgrims needed lodgings:
and then all places of pilgrimage do, from the first, become places of
trade. The first day pilgrims meet, merchants have also met: where
men see themselves assembled for one object, they find that they can
accomplish other objects which depend on meeting together. Mecca
became the Fair of all Arabia. And thereby indeed the chief staple and
warehouse of whatever Commerce there was between the Indian and the
Western countries, Syria, Egypt, even Italy. It had at one time a
population of 100,000; buyers, forwarders of those Eastern and Western
products; importers for their own behoof of provisions and corn. The
government was a kind of irregular aristocratic republic, not without a
touch of theocracy. Ten Men of a chief tribe, chosen in some rough way,
were Governors of Mecca, and Keepers of the Caabah. The Koreish were
the chief tribe in Mahomet's time; his own family was of that tribe. The
rest of the Nation, fractioned and cut asunder by deserts, lived under
similar rude patriarchal governments by one or several: herdsmen,
carriers, traders, generally robbers too; being oftenest at war one with
another, or with all: held together by no open bond, if it were not this
meeting at the Caabah, where all forms of Arab Idolatry assembled in
common adoration;--held mainly by the _inward_ indissoluble bond of
a common blood and language. In this way had the Arabs lived for long
ages, unnoticed by the world; a people of great qualities, unconsciously
waiting for the day when they should become notable to all the world.
Their Idolatries appear to have been in a tottering state; much was
getting into confusion and fermentation among them. Obscure tidings of
the most important Event ever transacted in this world, the Life and
Death of the Divine Man in Judea, at once the symptom and cause of
immeasurable change to all people in the world, had in the course of
centuries reached into Arabia too; and could not but, of itself, have
produced fermentation there.

It was among this Arab people, so circumstanced, in the year 570 of our
Era, that the man Mahomet was born. He was of the family of Hashem,
of the Koreish tribe as we said; though poor, connected with the chief
persons of his country. Almost at his birth he lost his Father; at the
age of six years his Mother too, a woman noted for her beauty, her
worth and sense: he fell to the charge of his Grandfather, an old man, a
hundred years old. A good old man: Mahomet's Father, Abdallah, had been
his youngest favorite son. He saw in Mahomet, with his old life-worn
eyes, a century old, the lost Abdallah come back again, all that was
left of Abdallah. He loved the little orphan Boy greatly; used to say,
They must take care of that beautiful little Boy, nothing in their
kindred was more precious than he. At his death, while the boy was still
but two years old, he left him in charge to Abu Thaleb the eldest of the
Uncles, as to him that now was head of the house. By this Uncle, a just
and rational man as everything betokens, Mahomet was brought up in the
best Arab way.

Mahomet, as he grew up, accompanied his Uncle on trading journeys and
such like; in his eighteenth year one finds him a fighter following his
Uncle in war. But perhaps the most significant of all his journeys is
one we find noted as of some years' earlier date: a journey to the Fairs
of Syria. The young man here first came in contact with a quite foreign
world,--with one foreign element of endless moment to him: the Christian
Religion. I know not what to make of that "Sergius, the Nestorian Monk,"
whom Abu Thaleb and he are said to have lodged with; or how much any
monk could have taught one still so young. Probably enough it is greatly
exaggerated, this of the Nestorian Monk. Mahomet was only fourteen;
had no language but his own: much in Syria must have been a strange
unintelligible whirlpool to him. But the eyes of the lad were open;
glimpses of many things would doubtless be taken in, and lie very
enigmatic as yet, which were to ripen in a strange way into views, into
beliefs and insights one day. These journeys to Syria were probably the
beginning of much to Mahomet.

One other circumstance we must not forget: that he had no
school-learning; of the thing we call school-learning none at all. The
art of writing was but just introduced into Arabia; it seems to be the
true opinion that Mahomet never could write! Life in the Desert, with
its experiences, was all his education. What of this infinite Universe
he, from his dim place, with his own eyes and thoughts, could take in,
so much and no more of it was he to know. Curious, if we will reflect on
it, this of having no books. Except by what he could see for himself, or
hear of by uncertain rumor of speech in the obscure Arabian Desert, he
could know nothing. The wisdom that had been before him or at a distance
from him in the world, was in a manner as good as not there for him. Of
the great brother souls, flame-beacons through so many lands and times,
no one directly communicates with this great soul. He is alone there,
deep down in the bosom of the Wilderness; has to grow up so,--alone with
Nature and his own Thoughts.

But, from an early age, he had been remarked as a thoughtful man. His
companions named him "_Al Amin_, The Faithful." A man of truth and
fidelity; true in what he did, in what he spake and thought. They noted
that _he_ always meant something. A man rather taciturn in speech;
silent when there was nothing to be said; but pertinent, wise, sincere,
when he did speak; always throwing light on the matter. This is the only
sort of speech _worth_ speaking! Through life we find him to have been
regarded as an altogether solid, brotherly, genuine man. A serious,
sincere character; yet amiable, cordial, companionable, jocose even;--a
good laugh in him withal: there are men whose laugh is as untrue as
anything about them; who cannot laugh. One hears of Mahomet's beauty:
his fine sagacious honest face, brown florid complexion, beaming black
eyes;--I somehow like too that vein on the brow, which swelled up
black when he was in anger: like the "_horseshoe_ vein" in Scott's
_Redgauntlet_. It was a kind of feature in the Hashem family, this black
swelling vein in the brow; Mahomet had it prominent, as would appear.
A spontaneous, passionate, yet just, true-meaning man! Full of wild
faculty, fire and light; of wild worth, all uncultured; working out his
life-task in the depths of the Desert there.

How he was placed with Kadijah, a rich Widow, as her Steward, and
travelled in her business, again to the Fairs of Syria; how he managed
all, as one can well understand, with fidelity, adroitness; how her
gratitude, her regard for him grew: the story of their marriage is
altogether a graceful intelligible one, as told us by the Arab authors.
He was twenty-five; she forty, though still beautiful. He seems to have
lived in a most affectionate, peaceable, wholesome way with this wedded
benefactress; loving her truly, and her alone. It goes greatly
against the impostor theory, the fact that he lived in this entirely
unexceptionable, entirely quiet and commonplace way, till the heat of
his years was done. He was forty before he talked of any mission from
Heaven. All his irregularities, real and supposed, date from after
his fiftieth year, when the good Kadijah died. All his "ambition,"
seemingly, had been, hitherto, to live an honest life; his "fame,"
the mere good opinion of neighbors that knew him, had been sufficient
hitherto. Not till he was already getting old, the prurient heat of his
life all burnt out, and _peace_ growing to be the chief thing this world
could give him, did he start on the "career of ambition;" and, belying
all his past character and existence, set up as a wretched empty
charlatan to acquire what he could now no longer enjoy! For my share, I
have no faith whatever in that.

Ah no: this deep-hearted Son of the Wilderness, with his beaming black
eyes and open social deep soul, had other thoughts in him than ambition.
A silent great soul; he was one of those who cannot _but_ be in earnest;
whom Nature herself has appointed to be sincere. While others walk in
formulas and hearsays, contented enough to dwell there, this man could
not screen himself in formulas; he was alone with his own soul and the
reality of things. The great Mystery of Existence, as I said, glared in
upon him, with its terrors, with its splendors; no hearsays could hide
that unspeakable fact, "Here am I!" Such _sincerity_, as we named it,
has in very truth something of divine. The word of such a man is a Voice
direct from Nature's own Heart. Men do and must listen to that as to
nothing else;--all else is wind in comparison. From of old, a thousand
thoughts, in his pilgrimings and wanderings, had been in this man:
What am I? What _is_ this unfathomable Thing I live in, which men name
Universe? What is Life; what is Death? What am I to believe? What am
I to do? The grim rocks of Mount Hara, of Mount Sinai, the stern sandy
solitudes answered not. The great Heaven rolling silent overhead, with
its blue-glancing stars, answered not. There was no answer. The man's
own soul, and what of God's inspiration dwelt there, had to answer!

It is the thing which all men have to ask themselves; which we too have
to ask, and answer. This wild man felt it to be of _infinite_ moment;
all other things of no moment whatever in comparison. The jargon of
argumentative Greek Sects, vague traditions of Jews, the stupid routine
of Arab Idolatry: there was no answer in these. A Hero, as I repeat,
has this first distinction, which indeed we may call first and last, the
Alpha and Omega of his whole Heroism, That he looks through the shows
of things into _things_. Use and wont, respectable hearsay, respectable
formula: all these are good, or are not good. There is something behind
and beyond all these, which all these must correspond with, be the image
of, or they are--_Idolatries_; "bits of black wood pretending to be
God;" to the earnest soul a mockery and abomination. Idolatries never so
gilded, waited on by heads of the Koreish, will do nothing for this man.
Though all men walk by them, what good is it? The great Reality
stands glaring there upon _him_. He there has to answer it, or perish
miserably. Now, even now, or else through all Eternity never! Answer it;
_thou_ must find an answer.--Ambition? What could all Arabia do for this
man; with the crown of Greek Heraclius, of Persian Chosroes, and all
crowns in the Earth;--what could they all do for him? It was not of the
Earth he wanted to hear tell; it was of the Heaven above and of the Hell
beneath. All crowns and sovereignties whatsoever, where would _they_ in
a few brief years be? To be Sheik of Mecca or Arabia, and have a bit of
gilt wood put into your hand,--will that be one's salvation? I decidedly
think, not. We will leave it altogether, this impostor hypothesis, as
not credible; not very tolerable even, worthy chiefly of dismissal by

Mahomet had been wont to retire yearly, during the month Ramadhan, into
solitude and silence; as indeed was the Arab custom; a praiseworthy
custom, which such a man, above all, would find natural and useful.
Communing with his own heart, in the silence of the mountains; himself
silent; open to the "small still voices:" it was a right natural custom!
Mahomet was in his fortieth year, when having withdrawn to a cavern
in Mount Hara, near Mecca, during this Ramadhan, to pass the month in
prayer, and meditation on those great questions, he one day told his
wife Kadijah, who with his household was with him or near him this year,
That by the unspeakable special favor of Heaven he had now found it all
out; was in doubt and darkness no longer, but saw it all. That all these
Idols and Formulas were nothing, miserable bits of wood; that there was
One God in and over all; and we must leave all Idols, and look to Him.
That God is great; and that there is nothing else great! He is the
Reality. Wooden Idols are not real; He is real. He made us at first,
sustains us yet; we and all things are but the shadow of Him; a
transitory garment veiling the Eternal Splendor. "_Allah akbar_, God is
great;"--and then also "_Islam_," That we must submit to God. That our
whole strength lies in resigned submission to Him, whatsoever He do to
us. For this world, and for the other! The thing He sends to us, were
it death and worse than death, shall be good, shall be best; we resign
ourselves to God.--"If this be _Islam_," says Goethe, "do we not all
live in _Islam_?" Yes, all of us that have any moral life; we all live
so. It has ever been held the highest wisdom for a man not merely to
submit to Necessity,--Necessity will make him submit,--but to know and
believe well that the stern thing which Necessity had ordered was
the wisest, the best, the thing wanted there. To cease his frantic
pretension of scanning this great God's-World in his small fraction of a
brain; to know that it _had_ verily, though deep beyond his soundings,
a Just Law, that the soul of it was Good;--that his part in it was to
conform to the Law of the Whole, and in devout silence follow that; not
questioning it, obeying it as unquestionable.

I say, this is yet the only true morality known. A man is right and
invincible, virtuous and on the road towards sure conquest, precisely
while he joins himself to the great deep Law of the World, in spite
of all superficial laws, temporary appearances, profit-and-loss
calculations; he is victorious while he co-operates with that great
central Law, not victorious otherwise:--and surely his first chance of
co-operating with it, or getting into the course of it, is to know with
his whole soul that it is; that it is good, and alone good! This is the
soul of Islam; it is properly the soul of Christianity;--for Islam is
definable as a confused form of Christianity; had Christianity not been,
neither had it been. Christianity also commands us, before all, to be
resigned to God. We are to take no counsel with flesh and blood; give
ear to no vain cavils, vain sorrows and wishes: to know that we know
nothing; that the worst and cruelest to our eyes is not what it seems;
that we have to receive whatsoever befalls us as sent from God above,
and say, It is good and wise, God is great! "Though He slay me, yet will
I trust in Him." Islam means in its way Denial of Self, Annihilation
of Self. This is yet the highest Wisdom that Heaven has revealed to our

Such light had come, as it could, to illuminate the darkness of this
wild Arab soul. A confused dazzling splendor as of life and Heaven, in
the great darkness which threatened to be death: he called it revelation
and the angel Gabriel;--who of us yet can know what to call it? It
is the "inspiration of the Almighty" that giveth us understanding. To
_know_; to get into the truth of anything, is ever a mystic act,--of
which the best Logics can but babble on the surface. "Is not Belief the
true god-announcing Miracle?" says Novalis.--That Mahomet's whole soul,
set in flame with this grand Truth vouchsafed him, should feel as if
it were important and the only important thing, was very natural. That
Providence had unspeakably honored him by revealing it, saving him from
death and darkness; that he therefore was bound to make known the same
to all creatures: this is what was meant by "Mahomet is the Prophet of
God;" this too is not without its true meaning.--

The good Kadijah, we can fancy, listened to him with wonder, with doubt:
at length she answered: Yes, it was true this that he said. One can
fancy too the boundless gratitude of Mahomet; and how of all the
kindnesses she had done him, this of believing the earnest struggling
word he now spoke was the greatest. "It is certain," says Novalis, "my
Conviction gains infinitely, the moment another soul will believe in
it." It is a boundless favor.--He never forgot this good Kadijah.
Long afterwards, Ayesha his young favorite wife, a woman who indeed
distinguished herself among the Moslem, by all manner of qualities,
through her whole long life; this young brilliant Ayesha was, one day,
questioning him: "Now am not I better than Kadijah? She was a widow;
old, and had lost her looks: you love me better than you did
her?"--"No, by Allah!" answered Mahomet: "No, by Allah! She believed
in me when none else would believe. In the whole world I had but one
friend, and she was that!"--Seid, his Slave, also believed in him;
these with his young Cousin Ali, Abu Thaleb's son, were his first

He spoke of his Doctrine to this man and that; but the most treated it
with ridicule, with indifference; in three years, I think, he had gained
but thirteen followers. His progress was slow enough. His encouragement
to go on, was altogether the usual encouragement that such a man in such
a case meets. After some three years of small success, he invited forty
of his chief kindred to an entertainment; and there stood up and told
them what his pretension was: that he had this thing to promulgate
abroad to all men; that it was the highest thing, the one thing: which
of them would second him in that? Amid the doubt and silence of all,
young Ali, as yet a lad of sixteen, impatient of the silence, started
up, and exclaimed in passionate fierce language, That he would!
The assembly, among whom was Abu Thaleb, Ali's Father, could not be
unfriendly to Mahomet; yet the sight there, of one unlettered elderly
man, with a lad of sixteen, deciding on such an enterprise against all
mankind, appeared ridiculous to them; the assembly broke up in laughter.
Nevertheless it proved not a laughable thing; it was a very serious
thing! As for this young Ali, one cannot but like him. A noble-minded
creature, as he shows himself, now and always afterwards; full of
affection, of fiery daring. Something chivalrous in him; brave as
a lion; yet with a grace, a truth and affection worthy of Christian
knighthood. He died by assassination in the Mosque at Bagdad; a death
occasioned by his own generous fairness, confidence in the fairness of
others: he said, If the wound proved not unto death, they must pardon
the Assassin; but if it did, then they must slay him straightway, that
so they two in the same hour might appear before God, and see which side
of that quarrel was the just one!

Mahomet naturally gave offence to the Koreish, Keepers of the Caabah,
superintendents of the Idols. One or two men of influence had joined
him: the thing spread slowly, but it was spreading. Naturally he gave
offence to everybody: Who is this that pretends to be wiser than we all;
that rebukes us all, as mere fools and worshippers of wood! Abu Thaleb
the good Uncle spoke with him: Could he not be silent about all that;
believe it all for himself, and not trouble others, anger the chief men,
endanger himself and them all, talking of it? Mahomet answered: If the
Sun stood on his right hand and the Moon on his left, ordering him to
hold his peace, he could not obey! No: there was something in this Truth
he had got which was of Nature herself; equal in rank to Sun, or Moon,
or whatsoever thing Nature had made. It would speak itself there, so
long as the Almighty allowed it, in spite of Sun and Moon, and all
Koreish and all men and things. It must do that, and could do no other.
Mahomet answered so; and, they say, "burst into tears." Burst into
tears: he felt that Abu Thaleb was good to him; that the task he had got
was no soft, but a stern and great one.

He went on speaking to who would listen to him; publishing his Doctrine
among the pilgrims as they came to Mecca; gaining adherents in this
place and that. Continual contradiction, hatred, open or secret danger
attended him. His powerful relations protected Mahomet himself; but by
and by, on his own advice, all his adherents had to quit Mecca, and seek
refuge in Abyssinia over the sea. The Koreish grew ever angrier; laid
plots, and swore oaths among them, to put Mahomet to death with their
own hands. Abu Thaleb was dead, the good Kadijah was dead. Mahomet is
not solicitous of sympathy from us; but his outlook at this time was
one of the dismalest. He had to hide in caverns, escape in disguise; fly
hither and thither; homeless, in continual peril of his life. More than
once it seemed all over with him; more than once it turned on a straw,
some rider's horse taking fright or the like, whether Mahomet and his
Doctrine had not ended there, and not been heard of at all. But it was
not to end so.

In the thirteenth year of his mission, finding his enemies all banded
against him, forty sworn men, one out of every tribe, waiting to take
his life, and no continuance possible at Mecca for him any longer,
Mahomet fled to the place then called Yathreb, where he had gained some
adherents; the place they now call Medina, or "_Medinat al Nabi_, the
City of the Prophet," from that circumstance. It lay some two hundred
miles off, through rocks and deserts; not without great difficulty, in
such mood as we may fancy, he escaped thither, and found welcome. The
whole East dates its era from this Flight, _hegira_ as they name it: the
Year 1 of this Hegira is 622 of our Era, the fifty-third of Mahomet's
life. He was now becoming an old man; his friends sinking round him one
by one; his path desolate, encompassed with danger: unless he could find
hope in his own heart, the outward face of things was but hopeless
for him. It is so with all men in the like case. Hitherto Mahomet had
professed to publish his Religion by the way of preaching and persuasion
alone. But now, driven foully out of his native country, since unjust
men had not only given no ear to his earnest Heaven's-message, the deep
cry of his heart, but would not even let him live if he kept speaking
it,--the wild Son of the Desert resolved to defend himself, like a man
and Arab. If the Koreish will have it so, they shall have it. Tidings,
felt to be of infinite moment to them and all men, they would not listen
to these; would trample them down by sheer violence, steel and murder:
well, let steel try it then! Ten years more this Mahomet had; all of
fighting of breathless impetuous toil and struggle; with what result we

Much has been said of Mahomet's propagating his Religion by the sword.
It is no doubt far nobler what we have to boast of the Christian
Religion, that it propagated itself peaceably in the way of preaching
and conviction. Yet withal, if we take this for an argument of the truth
or falsehood of a religion, there is a radical mistake in it. The sword
indeed: but where will you get your sword! Every new opinion, at its
starting, is precisely in a _minority of one_. In one man's head alone,
there it dwells as yet. One man alone of the whole world believes it;
there is one man against all men. That _he_ take a sword, and try to
propagate with that, will do little for him. You must first get your
sword! On the whole, a thing will propagate itself as it can. We do not
find, of the Christian Religion either, that it always disdained the
sword, when once it had got one. Charlemagne's conversion of the Saxons
was not by preaching. I care little about the sword: I will allow a
thing to struggle for itself in this world, with any sword or tongue
or implement it has, or can lay hold of. We will let it preach, and
pamphleteer, and fight, and to the uttermost bestir itself, and do, beak
and claws, whatsoever is in it; very sure that it will, in the long-run,
conquer nothing which does not deserve to be conquered. What is better
than itself, it cannot put away, but only what is worse. In this great
Duel, Nature herself is umpire, and can do no wrong: the thing which is
deepest-rooted in Nature, what we call _truest_, that thing and not the
other will be found growing at last.

Here however, in reference to much that there is in Mahomet and his
success, we are to remember what an umpire Nature is; what a greatness,
composure of depth and tolerance there is in her. You take wheat to
cast into the Earth's bosom; your wheat may be mixed with chaff, chopped
straw, barn-sweepings, dust and all imaginable rubbish; no matter:
you cast it into the kind just Earth; she grows the wheat,--the whole
rubbish she silently absorbs, shrouds _it_ in, says nothing of the
rubbish. The yellow wheat is growing there; the good Earth is silent
about all the rest,--has silently turned all the rest to some benefit
too, and makes no complaint about it! So everywhere in Nature! She is
true and not a lie; and yet so great, and just, and motherly in her
truth. She requires of a thing only that it _be_ genuine of heart; she
will protect it if so; will not, if not so. There is a soul of truth in
all the things she ever gave harbor to. Alas, is not this the history of
all highest Truth that comes or ever came into the world? The _body_ of
them all is imperfection, an element of light in darkness: to us they
have to come embodied in mere Logic, in some merely _scientific_ Theorem
of the Universe; which _cannot_ be complete; which cannot but be found,
one day, incomplete, erroneous, and so die and disappear. The body of
all Truth dies; and yet in all, I say, there is a soul which never dies;
which in new and ever-nobler embodiment lives immortal as man himself!
It is the way with Nature. The genuine essence of Truth never dies. That
it be genuine, a voice from the great Deep of Nature, there is the point
at Nature's judgment-seat. What _we_ call pure or impure, is not with
her the final question. Not how much chaff is in you; but whether you
have any wheat. Pure? I might say to many a man: Yes, you are pure; pure
enough; but you are chaff,--insincere hypothesis, hearsay, formality;
you never were in contact with the great heart of the Universe at all;
you are properly neither pure nor impure; you _are_ nothing, Nature has
no business with you.

Mahomet's Creed we called a kind of Christianity; and really, if we
look at the wild rapt earnestness with which it was believed and laid
to heart, I should say a better kind than that of those miserable Syrian
Sects, with their vain janglings about _Homoiousion_ and _Homoousion_,
the head full of worthless noise, the heart empty and dead! The truth
of it is embedded in portentous error and falsehood; but the truth of
it makes it be believed, not the falsehood: it succeeded by its truth.
A bastard kind of Christianity, but a living kind; with a heart-life in
it; not dead, chopping barren logic merely! Out of all that rubbish
of Arab idolatries, argumentative theologies, traditions, subtleties,
rumors and hypotheses of Greeks and Jews, with their idle wire-drawings,
this wild man of the Desert, with his wild sincere heart, earnest as
death and life, with his great flashing natural eyesight, had seen into
the kernel of the matter. Idolatry is nothing: these Wooden Idols
of yours, "ye rub them with oil and wax, and the flies stick on
them,"--these are wood, I tell you! They can do nothing for you; they
are an impotent blasphemous presence; a horror and abomination, if ye
knew them. God alone is; God alone has power; He made us, He can kill
us and keep us alive: "_Allah akbar_, God is great." Understand that His
will is the best for you; that howsoever sore to flesh and blood, you
will find it the wisest, best: you are bound to take it so; in this
world and in the next, you have no other thing that you can do!

And now if the wild idolatrous men did believe this, and with their
fiery hearts lay hold of it to do it, in what form soever it came to
them, I say it was well worthy of being believed. In one form or the
other, I say it is still the one thing worthy of being believed by all
men. Man does hereby become the high-priest of this Temple of a
World. He is in harmony with the Decrees of the Author of this World;
cooperating with them, not vainly withstanding them: I know, to this
day, no better definition of Duty than that same. All that is _right_
includes itself in this of co-operating with the real Tendency of the
World: you succeed by this (the World's Tendency will succeed), you are
good, and in the right course there. _Homoiousion_, _Homoousion_, vain
logical jangle, then or before or at any time, may jangle itself out,
and go whither and how it likes: this is the _thing_ it all struggles to
mean, if it would mean anything. If it do not succeed in meaning this,
it means nothing. Not that Abstractions, logical Propositions, be
correctly worded or incorrectly; but that living concrete Sons of Adam
do lay this to heart: that is the important point. Islam devoured all
these vain jangling Sects; and I think had right to do so. It was
a Reality, direct from the great Heart of Nature once more. Arab
idolatries, Syrian formulas, whatsoever was not equally real, had to go
up in flame,--mere dead _fuel_, in various senses, for this which was

It was during these wild warfarings and strugglings, especially after
the Flight to Mecca, that Mahomet dictated at intervals his Sacred Book,
which they name _Koran_, or _Reading_, "Thing to be read." This is the
Work he and his disciples made so much of, asking all the world, Is not
that a miracle? The Mahometans regard their Koran with a reverence which
few Christians pay even to their Bible. It is admitted every where as
the standard of all law and all practice; the thing to be gone upon in
speculation and life; the message sent direct out of Heaven, which this
Earth has to conform to, and walk by; the thing to be read. Their Judges
decide by it; all Moslem are bound to study it, seek in it for the light
of their life. They have mosques where it is all read daily; thirty
relays of priests take it up in succession, get through the whole each
day. There, for twelve hundred years, has the voice of this Book, at all
moments, kept sounding through the ears and the hearts of so many men.
We hear of Mahometan Doctors that had read it seventy thousand times!

Very curious: if one sought for "discrepancies of national taste," here
surely were the most eminent instance of that! We also can read the
Koran; our Translation of it, by Sale, is known to be a very fair one.
I must say, it is as toilsome reading as I ever undertook. A wearisome
confused jumble, crude, incondite; endless iterations, long-windedness,
entanglement; most crude, incondite;--insupportable stupidity, in short!
Nothing but a sense of duty could carry any European through the Koran.
We read in it, as we might in the State-Paper Office, unreadable masses
of lumber, that perhaps we may get some glimpses of a remarkable man. It
is true we have it under disadvantages: the Arabs see more method in it
than we. Mahomet's followers found the Koran lying all in fractions, as
it had been written down at first promulgation; much of it, they say,
on shoulder-blades of mutton, flung pell-mell into a chest: and
they published it, without any discoverable order as to time or
otherwise;--merely trying, as would seem, and this not very strictly, to
put the longest chapters first. The real beginning of it, in that way,
lies almost at the end: for the earliest portions were the shortest.
Read in its historical sequence it perhaps would not be so bad. Much
of it, too, they say, is rhythmic; a kind of wild chanting song, in the
original. This may be a great point; much perhaps has been lost in the
Translation here. Yet with every allowance, one feels it difficult to
see how any mortal ever could consider this Koran as a Book written in
Heaven, too good for the Earth; as a well-written book, or indeed as
a _book_ at all; and not a bewildered rhapsody; _written_, so far as
writing goes, as badly as almost any book ever was! So much for national
discrepancies, and the standard of taste.

Yet I should say, it was not unintelligible how the Arabs might so love
it. When once you get this confused coil of a Koran fairly off your
hands, and have it behind you at a distance, the essential type of it
begins to disclose itself; and in this there is a merit quite other than
the literary one. If a book come from the heart, it will contrive to
reach other hearts; all art and author-craft are of small amount to
that. One would say the primary character of the Koran is this of its
_genuineness_, of its being a _bona-fide_ book. Prideaux, I know, and
others have represented it as a mere bundle of juggleries; chapter
after chapter got up to excuse and varnish the author's successive sins,
forward his ambitions and quackeries: but really it is time to dismiss
all that. I do not assert Mahomet's continual sincerity: who is
continually sincere? But I confess I can make nothing of the critic,
in these times, who would accuse him of deceit _prepense_; of conscious
deceit generally, or perhaps at all;--still more, of living in a mere
element of conscious deceit, and writing this Koran as a forger and
juggler would have done! Every candid eye, I think, will read the Koran
far otherwise than so. It is the confused ferment of a great rude human
soul; rude, untutored, that cannot even read; but fervent, earnest,
struggling vehemently to utter itself in words. With a kind of
breathless intensity he strives to utter himself; the thoughts crowd on
him pell-mell: for very multitude of things to say, he can get
nothing said. The meaning that is in him shapes itself into no form of
composition, is stated in no sequence, method, or coherence;--they are
not _shaped_ at all, these thoughts of his; flung out unshaped, as they
struggle and tumble there, in their chaotic inarticulate state. We
said "stupid:" yet natural stupidity is by no means the character of
Mahomet's Book; it is natural uncultivation rather. The man has not
studied speaking; in the haste and pressure of continual fighting, has
not time to mature himself into fit speech. The panting breathless haste
and vehemence of a man struggling in the thick of battle for life
and salvation; this is the mood he is in! A headlong haste; for very
magnitude of meaning, he cannot get himself articulated into words. The
successive utterances of a soul in that mood, colored by the various
vicissitudes of three-and-twenty years; now well uttered, now worse:
this is the Koran.

For we are to consider Mahomet, through these three-and-twenty years, as
the centre of a world wholly in conflict. Battles with the Koreish and
Heathen, quarrels among his own people, backslidings of his own wild
heart; all this kept him in a perpetual whirl, his soul knowing rest
no more. In wakeful nights, as one may fancy, the wild soul of the man,
tossing amid these vortices, would hail any light of a decision for
them as a veritable light from Heaven; _any_ making-up of his mind, so
blessed, indispensable for him there, would seem the inspiration of a
Gabriel. Forger and juggler? No, no! This great fiery heart, seething,
simmering like a great furnace of thoughts, was not a juggler's. His
Life was a Fact to him; this God's Universe an awful Fact and Reality.
He has faults enough. The man was an uncultured semi-barbarous Son of
Nature, much of the Bedouin still clinging to him: we must take him for
that. But for a wretched Simulacrum, a hungry Impostor without eyes
or heart, practicing for a mess of pottage such blasphemous swindlery,
forgery of celestial documents, continual high-treason against his Maker
and Self, we will not and cannot take him.

Sincerity, in all senses, seems to me the merit of the Koran; what had
rendered it precious to the wild Arab men. It is, after all, the first
and last merit in a book; gives rise to merits of all kinds,--nay, at
bottom, it alone can give rise to merit of any kind. Curiously,
through these incondite masses of tradition, vituperation, complaint,
ejaculation in the Koran, a vein of true direct insight, of what we
might almost call poetry, is found straggling. The body of the Book
is made up of mere tradition, and as it were vehement enthusiastic
extempore preaching. He returns forever to the old stories of the
Prophets as they went current in the Arab memory: how Prophet after
Prophet, the Prophet Abraham, the Prophet Hud, the Prophet Moses,
Christian and other real and fabulous Prophets, had come to this Tribe
and to that, warning men of their sin; and been received by them even as
he Mahomet was,--which is a great solace to him. These things he
repeats ten, perhaps twenty times; again and ever again, with wearisome
iteration; has never done repeating them. A brave Samuel Johnson, in his
forlorn garret, might con over the Biographies of Authors in that way!
This is the great staple of the Koran. But curiously, through all this,
comes ever and anon some glance as of the real thinker and seer. He has
actually an eye for the world, this Mahomet: with a certain directness
and rugged vigor, he brings home still, to our heart, the thing his own
heart has been opened to. I make but little of his praises of Allah,
which many praise; they are borrowed I suppose mainly from the Hebrew,
at least they are far surpassed there. But the eye that flashes direct
into the heart of things, and _sees_ the truth of them; this is to me a
highly interesting object. Great Nature's own gift; which she bestows on
all; but which only one in the thousand does not cast sorrowfully away:
it is what I call sincerity of vision; the test of a sincere heart.

Mahomet can work no miracles; he often answers impatiently: I can work
no miracles. I? "I am a Public Preacher;" appointed to preach this
doctrine to all creatures. Yet the world, as we can see, had really from
of old been all one great miracle to him. Look over the world, says he;
is it not wonderful, the work of Allah; wholly "a sign to you," if your
eyes were open! This Earth, God made it for you; "appointed paths in
it;" you can live in it, go to and fro on it.--The clouds in the dry
country of Arabia, to Mahomet they are very wonderful: Great clouds, he
says, born in the deep bosom of the Upper Immensity, where do they
come from! They hang there, the great black monsters; pour down their
rain-deluges "to revive a dead earth," and grass springs, and "tall
leafy palm-trees with their date-clusters hanging round. Is not that a
sign?" Your cattle too,--Allah made them; serviceable dumb creatures;
they change the grass into milk; you have your clothing from them, very
strange creatures; they come ranking home at evening-time, "and," adds
he, "and are a credit to you!" Ships also,--he talks often about ships:
Huge moving mountains, they spread out their cloth wings, go bounding
through the water there, Heaven's wind driving them; anon they lie
motionless, God has withdrawn the wind, they lie dead, and cannot stir!
Miracles? cries he: What miracle would you have? Are not you yourselves
there? God made you, "shaped you out of a little clay." Ye were small
once; a few years ago ye were not at all. Ye have beauty, strength,
thoughts, "ye have compassion on one another." Old age comes on you, and
gray hairs; your strength fades into feebleness; ye sink down, and again
are not. "Ye have compassion on one another:" this struck me much: Allah
might have made you having no compassion on one another,--how had it
been then! This is a great direct thought, a glance at first-hand into
the very fact of things. Rude vestiges of poetic genius, of whatsoever
is best and truest, are visible in this man. A strong untutored
intellect; eyesight, heart: a strong wild man,--might have shaped
himself into Poet, King, Priest, any kind of Hero.

To his eyes it is forever clear that this world wholly is miraculous.
He sees what, as we said once before, all great thinkers, the rude
Scandinavians themselves, in one way or other, have contrived to see:
That this so solid-looking material world is, at bottom, in very deed,
Nothing; is a visual and factual Manifestation of God's power and
presence,--a shadow hung out by Him on the bosom of the void Infinite;
nothing more. The mountains, he says, these great rock-mountains, they
shall dissipate themselves "like clouds;" melt into the Blue as clouds
do, and not be! He figures the Earth, in the Arab fashion, Sale tells
us, as an immense Plain or flat Plate of ground, the mountains are
set on that to _steady_ it. At the Last Day they shall disappear "like
clouds;" the whole Earth shall go spinning, whirl itself off into wreck,
and as dust and vapor vanish in the Inane. Allah withdraws his hand
from it, and it ceases to be. The universal empire of Allah, presence
everywhere of an unspeakable Power, a Splendor, and a Terror not to be
named, as the true force, essence and reality, in all things whatsoever,
was continually clear to this man. What a modern talks of by the name,
Forces of Nature, Laws of Nature; and does not figure as a divine
thing; not even as one thing at all, but as a set of things, undivine
enough,--salable, curious, good for propelling steamships! With our
Sciences and Cyclopaedias, we are apt to forget the _divineness_, in
those laboratories of ours. We ought not to forget it! That once well
forgotten, I know not what else were worth remembering. Most sciences,
I think were then a very dead thing; withered, contentious, empty;--a
thistle in late autumn. The best science, without this, is but as the
dead _timber_; it is not the growing tree and forest,--which gives
ever-new timber, among other things! Man cannot _know_ either, unless
he can _worship_ in some way. His knowledge is a pedantry, and dead
thistle, otherwise.

Much has been said and written about the sensuality of Mahomet's
Religion; more than was just. The indulgences, criminal to us, which
he permitted, were not of his appointment; he found them practiced,
unquestioned from immemorial time in Arabia; what he did was to curtail
them, restrict them, not on one but on many sides. His Religion is not
an easy one: with rigorous fasts, lavations, strict complex formulas,
prayers five times a day, and abstinence from wine, it did not "succeed
by being an easy religion." As if indeed any religion, or cause holding
of religion, could succeed by that! It is a calumny on men to say
that they are roused to heroic action by ease, hope of pleasure,
recompense,--sugar-plums of any kind, in this world or the next! In the
meanest mortal there lies something nobler. The poor swearing soldier,
hired to be shot, has his "honor of a soldier," different from
drill-regulations and the shilling a day. It is not to taste sweet
things, but to do noble and true things, and vindicate himself under
God's Heaven as a god-made Man, that the poorest son of Adam dimly
longs. Show him the way of doing that, the dullest day-drudge kindles
into a hero. They wrong man greatly who say he is to be seduced by ease.
Difficulty, abnegation, martyrdom, death are the _allurements_ that act
on the heart of man. Kindle the inner genial life of him, you have
a flame that burns up all lower considerations. Not happiness, but
something higher: one sees this even in the frivolous classes, with
their "point of honor" and the like. Not by flattering our appetites;
no, by awakening the Heroic that slumbers in every heart, can any
Religion gain followers.

Mahomet himself, after all that can be said about him, was not a sensual
man. We shall err widely if we consider this man as a common voluptuary,
intent mainly on base enjoyments,--nay on enjoyments of any kind. His
household was of the frugalest; his common diet barley-bread and water:
sometimes for months there was not a fire once lighted on his hearth.
They record with just pride that he would mend his own shoes, patch
his own cloak. A poor, hard-toiling, ill-provided man; careless of what
vulgar men toil for. Not a bad man, I should say; something better in
him than _hunger_ of any sort,--or these wild Arab men, fighting and
jostling three-and-twenty years at his hand, in close contact with him
always, would not have reverenced him so! They were wild men, bursting
ever and anon into quarrel, into all kinds of fierce sincerity; without
right worth and manhood, no man could have commanded them. They called
him Prophet, you say? Why, he stood there face to face with them; bare,
not enshrined in any mystery; visibly clouting his own cloak, cobbling
his own shoes; fighting, counselling, ordering in the midst of them:
they must have seen what kind of a man he _was_, let him be _called_
what you like! No emperor with his tiaras was obeyed as this man in a
cloak of his own clouting. During three-and-twenty years of rough actual
trial. I find something of a veritable Hero necessary for that, of

His last words are a prayer; broken ejaculations of a heart struggling
up, in trembling hope, towards its Maker. We cannot say that his
religion made him _worse_; it made him better; good, not bad. Generous
things are recorded of him: when he lost his Daughter, the thing he
answers is, in his own dialect, every way sincere, and yet equivalent to
that of Christians, "The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away; blessed
be the name of the Lord." He answered in like manner of Seid, his
emancipated well-beloved Slave, the second of the believers. Seid had
fallen in the War of Tabuc, the first of Mahomet's fightings with the
Greeks. Mahomet said, It was well; Seid had done his Master's work,
Seid had now gone to his Master: it was all well with Seid. Yet Seid's
daughter found him weeping over the body;--the old gray-haired man
melting in tears! "What do I see?" said she.--"You see a friend weeping
over his friend."--He went out for the last time into the mosque, two
days before his death; asked, If he had injured any man? Let his own
back bear the stripes. If he owed any man? A voice answered, "Yes, me
three drachms," borrowed on such an occasion. Mahomet ordered them to
be paid: "Better be in shame now," said he, "than at the Day of
Judgment."--You remember Kadijah, and the "No, by Allah!" Traits of that
kind show us the genuine man, the brother of us all, brought visible
through twelve centuries,--the veritable Son of our common Mother.

Withal I like Mahomet for his total freedom from cant. He is a rough
self-helping son of the wilderness; does not pretend to be what he is
not. There is no ostentatious pride in him; but neither does he go much
upon humility: he is there as he can be, in cloak and shoes of his own
clouting; speaks plainly to all manner of Persian Kings, Greek Emperors,
what it is they are bound to do; knows well enough, about himself, "the
respect due unto thee." In a life-and-death war with Bedouins, cruel
things could not fail; but neither are acts of mercy, of noble natural
pity and generosity wanting. Mahomet makes no apology for the one, no
boast of the other. They were each the free dictate of his heart; each
called for, there and then. Not a mealy-mouthed man! A candid ferocity,
if the case call for it, is in him; he does not mince matters! The War
of Tabuc is a thing he often speaks of: his men refused, many of them,
to march on that occasion; pleaded the heat of the weather, the harvest,
and so forth; he can never forget that. Your harvest? It lasts for a
day. What will become of your harvest through all Eternity? Hot weather?
Yes, it was hot; "but Hell will be hotter!" Sometimes a rough sarcasm
turns up: He says to the unbelievers, Ye shall have the just measure of
your deeds at that Great Day. They will be weighed out to you; ye shall
not have short weight!--Everywhere he fixes the matter in his eye;
he _sees_ it: his heart, now and then, is as if struck dumb by the
greatness of it. "Assuredly," he says: that word, in the Koran, is
written down sometimes as a sentence by itself: "Assuredly."

No _Dilettantism_ in this Mahomet; it is a business of Reprobation and
Salvation with him, of Time and Eternity: he is in deadly earnest about
it! Dilettantism, hypothesis, speculation, a kind of amateur-search for
Truth, toying and coquetting with Truth: this is the sorest sin. The
root of all other imaginable sins. It consists in the heart and soul
of the man never having been _open_ to Truth;--"living in a vain show."
Such a man not only utters and produces falsehoods, but is himself a
falsehood. The rational moral principle, spark of the Divinity, is sunk
deep in him, in quiet paralysis of life-death. The very falsehoods of
Mahomet are truer than the truths of such a man. He is the insincere
man: smooth-polished, respectable in some times and places; inoffensive,
says nothing harsh to anybody; most _cleanly_,--just as carbonic acid
is, which is death and poison.

We will not praise Mahomet's moral precepts as always of the superfinest
sort; yet it can be said that there is always a tendency to good in
them; that they are the true dictates of a heart aiming towards what is
just and true. The sublime forgiveness of Christianity, turning of the
other cheek when the one has been smitten, is not here: you _are_ to
revenge yourself, but it is to be in measure, not overmuch, or beyond
justice. On the other hand, Islam, like any great Faith, and insight
into the essence of man, is a perfect equalizer of men: the soul of one
believer outweighs all earthly kingships; all men, according to Islam
too, are equal. Mahomet insists not on the propriety of giving alms, but
on the necessity of it: he marks down by law how much you are to give,
and it is at your peril if you neglect. The tenth part of a man's annual
income, whatever that may be, is the _property_ of the poor, of those
that are afflicted and need help. Good all this: the natural voice of
humanity, of pity and equity dwelling in the heart of this wild Son of
Nature speaks _so_.

Mahomet's Paradise is sensual, his Hell sensual: true; in the one and
the other there is enough that shocks all spiritual feeling in us. But
we are to recollect that the Arabs already had it so; that Mahomet, in
whatever he changed of it, softened and diminished all this. The worst
sensualities, too, are the work of doctors, followers of his, not his
work. In the Koran there is really very little said about the joys
of Paradise; they are intimated rather than insisted on. Nor is it
forgotten that the highest joys even there shall be spiritual; the pure
Presence of the Highest, this shall infinitely transcend all other joys.
He says, "Your salutation shall be, Peace." _Salam_, Have Peace!--the
thing that all rational souls long for, and seek, vainly here below,
as the one blessing. "Ye shall sit on seats, facing one another: all
grudges shall be taken away out of your hearts." All grudges! Ye shall
love one another freely; for each of you, in the eyes of his brothers,
there will be Heaven enough!

In reference to this of the sensual Paradise and Mahomet's sensuality,
the sorest chapter of all for us, there were many things to be said;
which it is not convenient to enter upon here. Two remarks only I shall
make, and therewith leave it to your candor. The first is furnished me
by Goethe; it is a casual hint of his which seems well worth taking note
of. In one of his Delineations, in _Meister's Travels_ it is, the hero
comes upon a Society of men with very strange ways, one of which was
this: "We require," says the Master, "that each of our people shall
restrict himself in one direction," shall go right against his desire in
one matter, and _make_ himself do the thing he does not wish, "should we
allow him the greater latitude on all other sides." There seems to me a
great justness in this. Enjoying things which are pleasant; that is not
the evil: it is the reducing of our moral self to slavery by them that
is. Let a man assert withal that he is king over his habitudes; that
he could and would shake them off, on cause shown: this is an excellent
law. The Month Ramadhan for the Moslem, much in Mahomet's Religion,
much in his own Life, bears in that direction; if not by forethought,
or clear purpose of moral improvement on his part, then by a certain
healthy manful instinct, which is as good.

But there is another thing to be said about the Mahometan Heaven and
Hell. This namely, that, however gross and material they may be, they
are an emblem of an everlasting truth, not always so well remembered
elsewhere. That gross sensual Paradise of his; that horrible flaming
Hell; the great enormous Day of Judgment he perpetually insists on: what
is all this but a rude shadow, in the rude Bedouin imagination, of that
grand spiritual Fact, and Beginning of Facts, which it is ill for us too
if we do not all know and feel: the Infinite Nature of Duty? That man's
actions here are of _infinite_ moment to him, and never die or end at
all; that man, with his little life, reaches upwards high as Heaven,
downwards low as Hell, and in his threescore years of Time holds an
Eternity fearfully and wonderfully hidden: all this had burnt itself, as
in flame-characters, into the wild Arab soul. As in flame and lightning,
it stands written there; awful, unspeakable, ever present to him. With
bursting earnestness, with a fierce savage sincerity, half-articulating,
not able to articulate, he strives to speak it, bodies it forth in that
Heaven and that Hell. Bodied forth in what way you will, it is the first
of all truths. It is venerable under all embodiments. What is the chief
end of man here below? Mahomet has answered this question, in a way that
might put some of us to shame! He does not, like a Bentham, a Paley,
take Right and Wrong, and calculate the profit and loss, ultimate
pleasure of the one and of the other; and summing all up by addition and
subtraction into a net result, ask you, Whether on the whole the Right
does not preponderate considerably? No; it is not _better_ to do the one
than the other; the one is to the other as life is to death,--as Heaven
is to Hell. The one must in nowise be done, the other in nowise left
undone. You shall not measure them; they are incommensurable: the one
is death eternal to a man, the other is life eternal. Benthamee Utility,
virtue by Profit and Loss; reducing this God's-world to a dead
brute Steam-engine, the infinite celestial Soul of Man to a kind of
Hay-balance for weighing hay and thistles on, pleasures and pains
on:--If you ask me which gives, Mahomet or they, the beggarlier and
falser view of Man and his Destinies in this Universe, I will answer, it
is not Mahomet--!

On the whole, we will repeat that this Religion of Mahomet's is a kind
of Christianity; has a genuine element of what is spiritually highest
looking through it, not to be hidden by all its imperfections. The
Scandinavian God _Wish_, the god of all rude men,--this has been
enlarged into a Heaven by Mahomet; but a Heaven symbolical of sacred
Duty, and to be earned by faith and well-doing, by valiant action, and
a divine patience which is still more valiant. It is Scandinavian
Paganism, and a truly celestial element superadded to that. Call it not
false; look not at the falsehood of it, look at the truth of it. For
these twelve centuries, it has been the religion and life-guidance of
the fifth part of the whole kindred of Mankind. Above all things, it has
been a religion heartily _believed_. These Arabs believe their religion,
and try to live by it! No Christians, since the early ages, or only
perhaps the English Puritans in modern times, have ever stood by their
Faith as the Moslem do by theirs,--believing it wholly, fronting Time
with it, and Eternity with it. This night the watchman on the streets
of Cairo when he cries, "Who goes?" will hear from the passenger, along
with his answer, "There is no God but God." _Allah akbar_, _Islam_,
sounds through the souls, and whole daily existence, of these dusky
millions. Zealous missionaries preach it abroad among Malays, black
Papuans, brutal Idolaters;--displacing what is worse, nothing that is
better or good.

To the Arab Nation it was as a birth from darkness into light; Arabia
first became alive by means of it. A poor shepherd people, roaming
unnoticed in its deserts since the creation of the world: a Hero-Prophet
was sent down to them with a word they could believe: see, the unnoticed
becomes world-notable, the small has grown world-great; within one
century afterwards, Arabia is at Grenada on this hand, at Delhi on
that;--glancing in valor and splendor and the light of genius, Arabia
shines through long ages over a great section of the world. Belief
is great, life-giving. The history of a Nation becomes fruitful,
soul-elevating, great, so soon as it believes. These Arabs, the man
Mahomet, and that one century,--is it not as if a spark had fallen, one
spark, on a world of what seemed black unnoticeable sand; but lo, the
sand proves explosive powder, blazes heaven-high from Delhi to Grenada!
I said, the Great Man was always as lightning out of Heaven; the rest of
men waited for him like fuel, and then they too would flame.


[May 12, 1840.]

The Hero as Divinity, the Hero as Prophet, are productions of old ages;
not to be repeated in the new. They presuppose a certain rudeness of
conception, which the progress of mere scientific knowledge puts an end
to. There needs to be, as it were, a world vacant, or almost vacant
of scientific forms, if men in their loving wonder are to fancy their
fellow-man either a god or one speaking with the voice of a god.
Divinity and Prophet are past. We are now to see our Hero in the less
ambitious, but also less questionable, character of Poet; a character
which does not pass. The Poet is a heroic figure belonging to all ages;
whom all ages possess, when once he is produced, whom the newest age as
the oldest may produce;--and will produce, always when Nature pleases.
Let Nature send a Hero-soul; in no age is it other than possible that he
may be shaped into a Poet.

Hero, Prophet, Poet,--many different names, in different times, and
places, do we give to Great Men; according to varieties we note in them,
according to the sphere in which they have displayed themselves! We
might give many more names, on this same principle. I will remark again,
however, as a fact not unimportant to be understood, that the different
_sphere_ constitutes the grand origin of such distinction; that the Hero
can be Poet, Prophet, King, Priest or what you will, according to the
kind of world he finds himself born into. I confess, I have no notion
of a truly great man that could not be _all_ sorts of men. The Poet who
could merely sit on a chair, and compose stanzas, would never make
a stanza worth much. He could not sing the Heroic warrior, unless he
himself were at least a Heroic warrior too. I fancy there is in him the
Politician, the Thinker, Legislator, Philosopher;--in one or the other
degree, he could have been, he is all these. So too I cannot understand
how a Mirabeau, with that great glowing heart, with the fire that was
in it, with the bursting tears that were in it, could not have written
verses, tragedies, poems, and touched all hearts in that way, had his
course of life and education led him thitherward. The grand fundamental
character is that of Great Man; that the man be great. Napoleon has
words in him which are like Austerlitz Battles. Louis Fourteenth's
Marshals are a kind of poetical men withal; the things Turenne says
are full of sagacity and geniality, like sayings of Samuel Johnson. The
great heart, the clear deep-seeing eye: there it lies; no man whatever,
in what province soever, can prosper at all without these. Petrarch and
Boccaccio did diplomatic messages, it seems, quite well: one can easily
believe it; they had done things a little harder than these! Burns,
a gifted song-writer, might have made a still better Mirabeau.
Shakspeare,--one knows not what _he_ could not have made, in the supreme

True, there are aptitudes of Nature too. Nature does not make all great
men, more than all other men, in the self-same mould. Varieties of
aptitude doubtless; but infinitely more of circumstance; and far
oftenest it is the _latter_ only that are looked to. But it is as with
common men in the learning of trades. You take any man, as yet a vague
capability of a man, who could be any kind of craftsman; and make him
into a smith, a carpenter, a mason: he is then and thenceforth that
and nothing else. And if, as Addison complains, you sometimes see a
street-porter, staggering under his load on spindle-shanks, and near
at hand a tailor with the frame of a Samson handling a bit of cloth
and small Whitechapel needle,--it cannot be considered that aptitude
of Nature alone has been consulted here either!--The Great Man also,
to what shall he be bound apprentice? Given your Hero, is he to become
Conqueror, King, Philosopher, Poet? It is an inexplicably complex
controversial-calculation between the world and him! He will read the
world and its laws; the world with its laws will be there to be read.
What the world, on _this_ matter, shall permit and bid is, as we said,
the most important fact about the world.--

Poet and Prophet differ greatly in our loose modern notions of them. In
some old languages, again, the titles are synonymous; _Vates_ means
both Prophet and Poet: and indeed at all times, Prophet and Poet, well
understood, have much kindred of meaning. Fundamentally indeed they are
still the same; in this most important respect especially, That they
have penetrated both of them into the sacred mystery of the Universe;
what Goethe calls "the open secret." "Which is the great secret?" asks
one.--"The _open_ secret,"--open to all, seen by almost none! That
divine mystery, which lies everywhere in all Beings, "the Divine Idea
of the World, that which lies at the bottom of Appearance," as Fichte
styles it; of which all Appearance, from the starry sky to the grass of
the field, but especially the Appearance of Man and his work, is but the
_vesture_, the embodiment that renders it visible. This divine mystery
_is_ in all times and in all places; veritably is. In most times and
places it is greatly overlooked; and the Universe, definable always in
one or the other dialect, as the realized Thought of God, is considered
a trivial, inert, commonplace matter,--as if, says the Satirist, it were
a dead thing, which some upholsterer had put together! It could do no
good, at present, to _speak_ much about this; but it is a pity for every
one of us if we do not know it, live ever in the knowledge of it. Really
a most mournful pity;--a failure to live at all, if we live otherwise!

But now, I say, whoever may forget this divine mystery, the _Vates_,
whether Prophet or Poet, has penetrated into it; is a man sent hither to
make it more impressively known to us. That always is his message; he
is to reveal that to us,--that sacred mystery which he more than others
lives ever present with. While others forget it, he knows it;--I might
say, he has been driven to know it; without consent asked of him, he
finds himself living in it, bound to live in it. Once more, here is no
Hearsay, but a direct Insight and Belief; this man too could not help
being a sincere man! Whosoever may live in the shows of things, it is
for him a necessity of nature to live in the very fact of things. A
man once more, in earnest with the Universe, though all others were
but toying with it. He is a _Vates_, first of all, in virtue of being
sincere. So far Poet and Prophet, participators in the "open secret,"
are one.

With respect to their distinction again: The _Vates_ Prophet, we might
say, has seized that sacred mystery rather on the moral side, as Good
and Evil, Duty and Prohibition; the _Vates_ Poet on what the Germans
call the aesthetic side, as Beautiful, and the like. The one we may call
a revealer of what we are to do, the other of what we are to love.
But indeed these two provinces run into one another, and cannot be
disjoined. The Prophet too has his eye on what we are to love: how else
shall he know what it is we are to do? The highest Voice ever heard on
this earth said withal, "Consider the lilies of the field; they toil
not, neither do they spin: yet Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed
like one of these." A glance, that, into the deepest deep of Beauty.
"The lilies of the field,"--dressed finer than earthly princes,
springing up there in the humble furrow-field; a beautiful _eye_ looking
out on you, from the great inner Sea of Beauty! How could the rude
Earth make these, if her Essence, rugged as she looks and is, were not
inwardly Beauty? In this point of view, too, a saying of Goethe's, which
has staggered several, may have meaning: "The Beautiful," he intimates,
"is higher than the Good; the Beautiful includes in it the Good." The
_true_ Beautiful; which however, I have said somewhere, "differs from
the _false_ as Heaven does from Vauxhall!" So much for the distinction
and identity of Poet and Prophet.--

In ancient and also in modern periods we find a few Poets who are
accounted perfect; whom it were a kind of treason to find fault with.
This is noteworthy; this is right: yet in strictness it is only an
illusion. At bottom, clearly enough, there is no perfect Poet! A vein
of Poetry exists in the hearts of all men; no man is made altogether of
Poetry. We are all poets when we _read_ a poem well. The "imagination
that shudders at the Hell of Dante," is not that the same faculty,
weaker in degree, as Dante's own? No one but Shakspeare can embody,
out of _Saxo Grammaticus_, the story of _Hamlet_ as Shakspeare did: but
every one models some kind of story out of it; every one embodies it
better or worse. We need not spend time in defining. Where there is no
specific difference, as between round and square, all definition must
be more or less arbitrary. A man that has _so_ much more of the poetic
element developed in him as to have become noticeable, will be called
Poet by his neighbors. World-Poets too, those whom we are to take for
perfect Poets, are settled by critics in the same way. One who rises
_so_ far above the general level of Poets will, to such and such
critics, seem a Universal Poet; as he ought to do. And yet it is, and
must be, an arbitrary distinction. All Poets, all men, have some touches
of the Universal; no man is wholly made of that. Most Poets are very
soon forgotten: but not the noblest Shakspeare or Homer of them can be
remembered _forever_;--a day comes when he too is not!

Nevertheless, you will say, there must be a difference between true
Poetry and true Speech not poetical: what is the difference? On this
point many things have been written, especially by late German Critics,
some of which are not very intelligible at first. They say, for
example, that the Poet has an _infinitude_ in him; communicates an
_Unendlichkeit_, a certain character of "infinitude," to whatsoever he
delineates. This, though not very precise, yet on so vague a matter is
worth remembering: if well meditated, some meaning will gradually be
found in it. For my own part, I find considerable meaning in the old
vulgar distinction of Poetry being _metrical_, having music in it, being
a Song. Truly, if pressed to give a definition, one might say this as
soon as anything else: If your delineation be authentically _musical_,
musical not in word only, but in heart and substance, in all the
thoughts and utterances of it, in the whole conception of it, then
it will be poetical; if not, not.--Musical: how much lies in that! A
_musical_ thought is one spoken by a mind that has penetrated into the
inmost heart of the thing; detected the inmost mystery of it, namely the
_melody_ that lies hidden in it; the inward harmony of coherence which
is its soul, whereby it exists, and has a right to be, here in this
world. All inmost things, we may say, are melodious; naturally utter
themselves in Song. The meaning of Song goes deep. Who is there that,
in logical words, can express the effect music has on us? A kind of
inarticulate unfathomable speech, which leads us to the edge of the
Infinite, and lets us for moments gaze into that!

Nay all speech, even the commonest speech, has something of song in
it: not a parish in the world but has its parish-accent;--the rhythm or
_tune_ to which the people there _sing_ what they have to say! Accent is
a kind of chanting; all men have accent of their own,--though they only
_notice_ that of others. Observe too how all passionate language does
of itself become musical,--with a finer music than the mere accent; the
speech of a man even in zealous anger becomes a chant, a song. All deep
things are Song. It seems somehow the very central essence of us, Song;
as if all the rest were but wrappages and hulls! The primal element of
us; of us, and of all things. The Greeks fabled of Sphere-Harmonies: it
was the feeling they had of the inner structure of Nature; that the soul
of all her voices and utterances was perfect music. Poetry, therefore,
we will call _musical Thought_. The Poet is he who _thinks_ in that
manner. At bottom, it turns still on power of intellect; it is a man's
sincerity and depth of vision that makes him a Poet. See deep enough,
and you see musically; the heart of Nature _being_ everywhere music, if
you can only reach it.

The _Vates_ Poet, with his melodious Apocalypse of Nature, seems to
hold a poor rank among us, in comparison with the _Vates_ Prophet; his
function, and our esteem of him for his function, alike slight. The Hero
taken as Divinity; the Hero taken as Prophet; then next the Hero taken
only as Poet: does it not look as if our estimate of the Great Man,
epoch after epoch, were continually diminishing? We take him first for
a god, then for one god-inspired; and now in the next stage of it, his
most miraculous word gains from us only the recognition that he is a
Poet, beautiful verse-maker, man of genius, or such like!--It looks so;
but I persuade myself that intrinsically it is not so. If we consider
well, it will perhaps appear that in man still there is the _same_
altogether peculiar admiration for the Heroic Gift, by what name soever
called, that there at any time was.

I should say, if we do not now reckon a Great Man literally divine,
it is that our notions of God, of the supreme unattainable Fountain of
Splendor, Wisdom and Heroism, are ever rising _higher_; not altogether
that our reverence for these qualities, as manifested in our like, is
getting lower. This is worth taking thought of. Sceptical Dilettantism,
the curse of these ages, a curse which will not last forever, does
indeed in this the highest province of human things, as in all
provinces, make sad work; and our reverence for great men, all
crippled, blinded, paralytic as it is, comes out in poor plight, hardly
recognizable. Men worship the shows of great men; the most disbelieve
that there is any reality of great men to worship. The dreariest,
fatalest faith; believing which, one would literally despair of
human things. Nevertheless look, for example, at Napoleon! A Corsican
lieutenant of artillery; that is the show of _him_: yet is he not
obeyed, worshipped after his sort, as all the Tiaraed and Diademed of
the world put together could not be? High Duchesses, and ostlers of
inns, gather round the Scottish rustic, Burns;--a strange feeling
dwelling in each that they never heard a man like this; that, on the
whole, this is the man! In the secret heart of these people it still
dimly reveals itself, though there is no accredited way of uttering
it at present, that this rustic, with his black brows and flashing
sun-eyes, and strange words moving laughter and tears, is of a dignity
far beyond all others, incommensurable with all others. Do not we feel
it so? But now, were Dilettantism, Scepticism, Triviality, and all that
sorrowful brood, cast out of us,--as, by God's blessing, they shall one
day be; were faith in the shows of things entirely swept out, replaced
by clear faith in the _things_, so that a man acted on the impulse of
that only, and counted the other non-extant; what a new livelier feeling
towards this Burns were it!

Nay here in these ages, such as they are, have we not two mere Poets, if
not deified, yet we may say beatified? Shakspeare and Dante are Saints
of Poetry; really, if we will think of it, _canonized_, so that it is
impiety to meddle with them. The unguided instinct of the world, working
across all these perverse impediments, has arrived at such result. Dante
and Shakspeare are a peculiar Two. They dwell apart, in a kind of royal
solitude; none equal, none second to them: in the general feeling of the
world, a certain transcendentalism, a glory as of complete perfection,
invests these two. They _are_ canonized, though no Pope or Cardinals
took hand in doing it! Such, in spite of every perverting influence,
in the most unheroic times, is still our indestructible reverence for
heroism.--We will look a little at these Two, the Poet Dante and the
Poet Shakspeare: what little it is permitted us to say here of the Hero
as Poet will most fitly arrange itself in that fashion.

Many volumes have been written by way of commentary on Dante and his
Book; yet, on the whole, with no great result. His Biography is, as
it were, irrecoverably lost for us. An unimportant, wandering,
sorrow-stricken man, not much note was taken of him while he lived; and
the most of that has vanished, in the long space that now intervenes.
It is five centuries since he ceased writing and living here. After
all commentaries, the Book itself is mainly what we know of him. The
Book;--and one might add that Portrait commonly attributed to Giotto,
which, looking on it, you cannot help inclining to think genuine,
whoever did it. To me it is a most touching face; perhaps of all faces
that I know, the most so. Lonely there, painted as on vacancy, with the
simple laurel wound round it; the deathless sorrow and pain, the known
victory which is also deathless;--significant of the whole history of
Dante! I think it is the mournfulest face that ever was painted from
reality; an altogether tragic, heart-affecting face. There is in it,
as foundation of it, the softness, tenderness, gentle affection as of
a child; but all this is as if congealed into sharp contradiction, into
abnegation, isolation, proud hopeless pain. A soft ethereal soul looking
out so stern, implacable, grim-trenchant, as from imprisonment of
thick-ribbed ice! Withal it is a silent pain too, a silent scornful
one: the lip is curled in a kind of godlike disdain of the thing that is
eating out his heart,--as if it were withal a mean insignificant thing,
as if he whom it had power to torture and strangle were greater than it.
The face of one wholly in protest, and lifelong unsurrendering battle,
against the world. Affection all converted into indignation: an
implacable indignation; slow, equable, silent, like that of a god! The
eye too, it looks out as in a kind of _surprise_, a kind of inquiry, Why
the world was of such a sort? This is Dante: so he looks, this "voice of
ten silent centuries," and sings us "his mystic unfathomable song."

The little that we know of Dante's Life corresponds well enough with
this Portrait and this Book. He was born at Florence, in the upper class
of society, in the year 1265. His education was the best then going;
much school-divinity, Aristotelean logic, some Latin classics,--no
inconsiderable insight into certain provinces of things: and Dante, with
his earnest intelligent nature, we need not doubt, learned better than
most all that was learnable. He has a clear cultivated understanding,
and of great subtlety; this best fruit of education he had contrived to
realize from these scholastics. He knows accurately and well what
lies close to him; but, in such a time, without printed books or free
intercourse, he could not know well what was distant: the small clear
light, most luminous for what is near, breaks itself into singular
_chiaroscuro_ striking on what is far off. This was Dante's learning
from the schools. In life, he had gone through the usual destinies; been
twice out campaigning as a soldier for the Florentine State, been on
embassy; had in his thirty-fifth year, by natural gradation of talent
and service, become one of the Chief Magistrates of Florence. He had met
in boyhood a certain Beatrice Portinari, a beautiful little girl of his
own age and rank, and grown up thenceforth in partial sight of her,
in some distant intercourse with her. All readers know his graceful
affecting account of this; and then of their being parted; of her being
wedded to another, and of her death soon after. She makes a great figure
in Dante's Poem; seems to have made a great figure in his life. Of all
beings it might seem as if she, held apart from him, far apart at
last in the dim Eternity, were the only one he had ever with his whole
strength of affection loved. She died: Dante himself was wedded; but it
seems not happily, far from happily. I fancy, the rigorous earnest man,
with his keen excitabilities, was not altogether easy to make happy.

We will not complain of Dante's miseries: had all gone right with him as
he wished it, he might have been Prior, Podesta, or whatsoever they
call it, of Florence, well accepted among neighbors,--and the world had
wanted one of the most notable words ever spoken or sung. Florence
would have had another prosperous Lord Mayor; and the ten dumb centuries
continued voiceless, and the ten other listening centuries (for there
will be ten of them and more) had no _Divina Commedia_ to hear! We will
complain of nothing. A nobler destiny was appointed for this Dante; and
he, struggling like a man led towards death and crucifixion, could not
help fulfilling it. Give _him_ the choice of his happiness! He knew not,
more than we do, what was really happy, what was really miserable.

In Dante's Priorship, the Guelf-Ghibelline, Bianchi-Neri, or some other
confused disturbances rose to such a height, that Dante, whose party had
seemed the stronger, was with his friends cast unexpectedly forth into
banishment; doomed thenceforth to a life of woe and wandering. His
property was all confiscated and more; he had the fiercest feeling that
it was entirely unjust, nefarious in the sight of God and man. He tried
what was in him to get reinstated; tried even by warlike surprisal, with
arms in his hand: but it would not do; bad only had become worse. There
is a record, I believe, still extant in the Florence Archives, dooming
this Dante, wheresoever caught, to be burnt alive. Burnt alive; so
it stands, they say: a very curious civic document. Another curious
document, some considerable number of years later, is a Letter of
Dante's to the Florentine Magistrates, written in answer to a milder
proposal of theirs, that he should return on condition of apologizing
and paying a fine. He answers, with fixed stern pride: "If I cannot
return without calling myself guilty, I will never return, _nunquam

For Dante there was now no home in this world. He wandered from patron
to patron, from place to place; proving, in his own bitter words, "How
hard is the path, _Come e duro calle_." The wretched are not cheerful
company. Dante, poor and banished, with his proud earnest nature, with
his moody humors, was not a man to conciliate men. Petrarch reports of
him that being at Can della Scala's court, and blamed one day for his
gloom and taciturnity, he answered in no courtier-like way. Della
Scala stood among his courtiers, with mimes and buffoons (_nebulones ac
histriones_) making him heartily merry; when turning to Dante, he said:
"Is it not strange, now, that this poor fool should make himself so
entertaining; while you, a wise man, sit there day after day, and have
nothing to amuse us with at all?" Dante answered bitterly: "No,
not strange; your Highness is to recollect the Proverb, _Like to
Like_;"--given the amuser, the amusee must also be given! Such a man,
with his proud silent ways, with his sarcasms and sorrows, was not made
to succeed at court. By degrees, it came to be evident to him that he
had no longer any resting-place, or hope of benefit, in this earth. The
earthly world had cast him forth, to wander, wander; no living heart to
love him now; for his sore miseries there was no solace here.

The deeper naturally would the Eternal World impress itself on him; that
awful reality over which, after all, this Time-world, with its Florences
and banishments, only flutters as an unreal shadow. Florence thou shalt
never see: but Hell and Purgatory and Heaven thou shalt surely see!
What is Florence, Can della Scala, and the World and Life altogether?
ETERNITY: thither, of a truth, not elsewhither, art thou and all things
bound! The great soul of Dante, homeless on earth, made its home more
and more in that awful other world. Naturally his thoughts brooded on
that, as on the one fact important for him. Bodied or bodiless, it is
the one fact important for all men:--but to Dante, in that age, it was
bodied in fixed certainty of scientific shape; he no more doubted of
that _Malebolge_ Pool, that it all lay there with its gloomy circles,
with its _alti guai_, and that he himself should see it, than we doubt
that we should see Constantinople if we went thither. Dante's heart,
long filled with this, brooding over it in speechless thought and awe,
bursts forth at length into "mystic unfathomable song;" and this his
_Divine Comedy_, the most remarkable of all modern Books, is the result.

It must have been a great solacement to Dante, and was, as we can see,
a proud thought for him at times, That he, here in exile, could do this
work; that no Florence, nor no man or men, could hinder him from doing
it, or even much help him in doing it. He knew too, partly, that it was
great; the greatest a man could do. "If thou follow thy star, _Se tu
segui tua stella_,"--so could the Hero, in his forsakenness, in his
extreme need, still say to himself: "Follow thou thy star, thou shalt
not fail of a glorious haven!" The labor of writing, we find, and indeed
could know otherwise, was great and painful for him; he says, This Book,
"which has made me lean for many years." Ah yes, it was won, all of it,
with pain and sore toil,--not in sport, but in grim earnest. His Book,
as indeed most good Books are, has been written, in many senses, with
his heart's blood. It is his whole history, this Book. He died after
finishing it; not yet very old, at the age of fifty-six;--broken-hearted
rather, as is said. He lies buried in his death-city Ravenna: _Hic
claudor Dantes patriis extorris ab oris_. The Florentines begged back
his body, in a century after; the Ravenna people would not give it.
"Here am I Dante laid, shut out from my native shores."

I said, Dante's Poem was a Song: it is Tieck who calls it "a mystic
unfathomable Song;" and such is literally the character of it. Coleridge
remarks very pertinently somewhere, that wherever you find a sentence
musically worded, of true rhythm and melody in the words, there is
something deep and good in the meaning too. For body and soul, word and
idea, go strangely together here as everywhere. Song: we said before,
it was the Heroic of Speech! All _old_ Poems, Homer's and the rest, are
authentically Songs. I would say, in strictness, that all right Poems
are; that whatsoever is not _sung_ is properly no Poem, but a piece of
Prose cramped into jingling lines,--to the great injury of the grammar,
to the great grief of the reader, for most part! What we wants to get at
is the _thought_ the man had, if he had any: why should he twist it into
jingle, if he _could_ speak it out plainly? It is only when the heart
of him is rapt into true passion of melody, and the very tones of him,
according to Coleridge's remark, become musical by the greatness, depth
and music of his thoughts, that we can give him right to rhyme and
sing; that we call him a Poet, and listen to him as the Heroic of
Speakers,--whose speech is Song. Pretenders to this are many; and to an
earnest reader, I doubt, it is for most part a very melancholy, not to
say an insupportable business, that of reading rhyme! Rhyme that had
no inward necessity to be rhymed;--it ought to have told us plainly,
without any jingle, what it was aiming at. I would advise all men who
_can_ speak their thought, not to sing it; to understand that, in
a serious time, among serious men, there is no vocation in them for
singing it. Precisely as we love the true song, and are charmed by it as
by something divine, so shall we hate the false song, and account it a
mere wooden noise, a thing hollow, superfluous, altogether an insincere
and offensive thing.

I give Dante my highest praise when I say of his _Divine Comedy_ that it
is, in all senses, genuinely a Song. In the very sound of it there is
a _canto fermo_; it proceeds as by a chant. The language, his simple
_terza rima_, doubtless helped him in this. One reads along naturally
with a sort of _lilt_. But I add, that it could not be otherwise; for
the essence and material of the work are themselves rhythmic. Its depth,
and rapt passion and sincerity, makes it musical;--go _deep_ enough,
there is music everywhere. A true inward symmetry, what one calls
an architectural harmony, reigns in it, proportionates it all:
architectural; which also partakes of the character of music. The three
kingdoms, _Inferno_, _Purgatorio_, _Paradiso_, look out on one
another like compartments of a great edifice; a great supernatural
world-cathedral, piled up there, stern, solemn, awful; Dante's World of
Souls! It is, at bottom, the _sincerest_ of all Poems; sincerity,
here too, we find to be the measure of worth. It came deep out of
the author's heart of hearts; and it goes deep, and through long
generations, into ours. The people of Verona, when they saw him on the
streets, used to say, "_Eccovi l' uom ch' e stato all' Inferno_, See,
there is the man that was in Hell!" Ah yes, he had been in Hell;--in
Hell enough, in long severe sorrow and struggle; as the like of him
is pretty sure to have been. Commedias that come out _divine_ are not
accomplished otherwise. Thought, true labor of any kind, highest
virtue itself, is it not the daughter of Pain? Born as out of the black
whirlwind;--true _effort_, in fact, as of a captive struggling to free
himself: that is Thought. In all ways we are "to become perfect through
_suffering_."--_But_, as I say, no work known to me is so elaborated as
this of Dante's. It has all been as if molten, in the hottest furnace of
his soul. It had made him "lean" for many years. Not the general whole
only; every compartment of it is worked out, with intense earnestness,
into truth, into clear visuality. Each answers to the other; each fits
in its place, like a marble stone accurately hewn and polished. It is
the soul of Dante, and in this the soul of the middle ages, rendered
forever rhythmically visible there. No light task; a right intense one:
but a task which is _done_.

Perhaps one would say, _intensity_, with the much that depends on it, is
the prevailing character of Dante's genius. Dante does not come before
us as a large catholic mind; rather as a narrow, and even sectarian
mind: it is partly the fruit of his age and position, but partly too of
his own nature. His greatness has, in all senses, concentred itself into
fiery emphasis and depth. He is world-great not because he is worldwide,
but because he is world-deep. Through all objects he pierces as it
were down into the heart of Being. I know nothing so intense as Dante.
Consider, for example, to begin with the outermost development of his
intensity, consider how he paints. He has a great power of vision;
seizes the very type of a thing; presents that and nothing more. You
remember that first view he gets of the Hall of Dite: _red_ pinnacle,
red-hot cone of iron glowing through the dim immensity of gloom;--so
vivid, so distinct, visible at once and forever! It is as an emblem of
the whole genius of Dante. There is a brevity, an abrupt precision in
him: Tacitus is not briefer, more condensed; and then in Dante it seems
a natural condensation, spontaneous to the man. One smiting word; and
then there is silence, nothing more said. His silence is more eloquent
than words. It is strange with what a sharp decisive grace he snatches
the true likeness of a matter: cuts into the matter as with a pen of
fire. Plutus, the blustering giant, collapses at Virgil's rebuke; it
is "as the sails sink, the mast being suddenly broken." Or that poor
Brunetto Latini, with the _cotto aspetto_, "face _baked_," parched brown
and lean; and the "fiery snow" that falls on them there, a "fiery snow
without wind," slow, deliberate, never-ending! Or the lids of those
Tombs; square sarcophaguses, in that silent dim-burning Hall, each with
its Soul in torment; the lids laid open there; they are to be shut at
the Day of Judgment, through Eternity. And how Farinata rises; and how
Cavalcante falls--at hearing of his Son, and the past tense "_fue_"! The
very movements in Dante have something brief; swift, decisive, almost
military. It is of the inmost essence of his genius this sort of
painting. The fiery, swift Italian nature of the man, so silent,
passionate, with its quick abrupt movements, its silent "pale rages,"
speaks itself in these things.

For though this of painting is one of the outermost developments of a
man, it comes like all else from the essential faculty of him; it is
physiognomical of the whole man. Find a man whose words paint you a
likeness, you have found a man worth something; mark his manner of doing
it, as very characteristic of him. In the first place, he could not have
discerned the object at all, or seen the vital type of it, unless he
had, what we may call, _sympathized_ with it,--had sympathy in him to
bestow on objects. He must have been _sincere_ about it too; sincere
and sympathetic: a man without worth cannot give you the likeness of
any object; he dwells in vague outwardness, fallacy and trivial hearsay,
about all objects. And indeed may we not say that intellect altogether
expresses itself in this power of discerning what an object is?
Whatsoever of faculty a man's mind may have will come out here. Is it
even of business, a matter to be done? The gifted man is he who _sees_
the essential point, and leaves all the rest aside as surplusage: it is
his faculty too, the man of business's faculty, that he discern the true
_likeness_, not the false superficial one, of the thing he has got to
work in. And how much of _morality_ is in the kind of insight we get
of anything; "the eye seeing in all things what it brought with it the
faculty of seeing"! To the mean eye all things are trivial, as certainly
as to the jaundiced they are yellow. Raphael, the Painters tell us, is
the best of all Portrait-painters withal. No most gifted eye can exhaust
the significance of any object. In the commonest human face there lies
more than Raphael will take away with him.

Dante's painting is not graphic only, brief, true, and of a vividness as
of fire in dark night; taken on the wider scale, it is every way noble,
and the outcome of a great soul. Francesca and her Lover, what qualities
in that! A thing woven as out of rainbows, on a ground of eternal black.
A small flute-voice of infinite wail speaks there, into our very heart
of hearts. A touch of womanhood in it too: _della bella persona, che
mi fu tolta_; and how, even in the Pit of woe, it is a solace that _he_
will never part from her! Saddest tragedy in these _alti guai_. And
the racking winds, in that _aer bruno_, whirl them away again, to
wail forever!--Strange to think: Dante was the friend of this poor
Francesca's father; Francesca herself may have sat upon the Poet's knee,
as a bright innocent little child. Infinite pity, yet also infinite
rigor of law: it is so Nature is made; it is so Dante discerned that she
was made. What a paltry notion is that of his _Divine Comedy's_ being a
poor splenetic impotent terrestrial libel; putting those into Hell whom
he could not be avenged upon on earth! I suppose if ever pity, tender
as a mother's, was in the heart of any man, it was in Dante's. But a
man who does not know rigor cannot pity either. His very pity will be
cowardly, egoistic,--sentimentality, or little better. I know not in
the world an affection equal to that of Dante. It is a tenderness, a
trembling, longing, pitying love: like the wail of AEolian harps, soft,
soft; like a child's young heart;--and then that stern, sore-saddened
heart! These longings of his towards his Beatrice; their meeting
together in the _Paradiso_; his gazing in her pure transfigured eyes,
her that had been purified by death so long, separated from him so
far:--one likens it to the song of angels; it is among the purest
utterances of affection, perhaps the very purest, that ever came out of
a human soul.

For the _intense_ Dante is intense in all things; he has got into the
essence of all. His intellectual insight as painter, on occasion too
as reasoner, is but the result of all other sorts of intensity. Morally
great, above all, we must call him; it is the beginning of all. His
scorn, his grief are as transcendent as his love;--as indeed, what are
they but the _inverse_ or _converse_ of his love? "_A Dio spiacenti ed
a' nemici sui_, Hateful to God and to the enemies of God:" lofty scorn,
unappeasable silent reprobation and aversion; "_Non ragionam di lor_, We
will not speak of _them_, look only and pass." Or think of this; "They
have not the _hope_ to die, _Non han speranza di morte_." One day,
it had risen sternly benign on the scathed heart of Dante, that he,
wretched, never-resting, worn as he was, would full surely _die_; "that
Destiny itself could not doom him not to die." Such words are in this
man. For rigor, earnestness and depth, he is not to be paralleled in the
modern world; to seek his parallel we must go into the Hebrew Bible, and
live with the antique Prophets there.

I do not agree with much modern criticism, in greatly preferring
the _Inferno_ to the two other parts of the Divine _Commedia_. Such
preference belongs, I imagine, to our general Byronism of taste, and
is like to be a transient feeling. The _Purgatorio_ and _Paradiso_,
especially the former, one would almost say, is even more excellent than
it. It is a noble thing that _Purgatorio_, "Mountain of Purification;"
an emblem of the noblest conception of that age. If sin is so fatal,
and Hell is and must be so rigorous, awful, yet in Repentance too is
man purified; Repentance is the grand Christian act. It is beautiful how
Dante works it out. The _tremolar dell' onde_, that "trembling" of the
ocean-waves, under the first pure gleam of morning, dawning afar on the
wandering Two, is as the type of an altered mood. Hope has now dawned;
never-dying Hope, if in company still with heavy sorrow. The obscure
sojourn of demons and reprobate is underfoot; a soft breathing of
penitence mounts higher and higher, to the Throne of Mercy itself. "Pray
for me," the denizens of that Mount of Pain all say to him. "Tell my
Giovanna to pray for me," my daughter Giovanna; "I think her mother
loves me no more!" They toil painfully up by that winding steep, "bent
down like corbels of a building," some of them,--crushed together so
"for the sin of pride;" yet nevertheless in years, in ages and aeons,
they shall have reached the top, which is heaven's gate, and by Mercy
shall have been admitted in. The joy too of all, when one has prevailed;
the whole Mountain shakes with joy, and a psalm of praise rises, when
one soul has perfected repentance and got its sin and misery left
behind! I call all this a noble embodiment of a true noble thought.

But indeed the Three compartments mutually support one another, are
indispensable to one another. The _Paradiso_, a kind of inarticulate
music to me, is the redeeming side of the _Inferno_; the _Inferno_
without it were untrue. All three make up the true Unseen World,
as figured in the Christianity of the Middle Ages; a thing forever
memorable, forever true in the essence of it, to all men. It was perhaps
delineated in no human soul with such depth of veracity as in this
of Dante's; a man _sent_ to sing it, to keep it long memorable. Very
notable with what brief simplicity he passes out of the every-day
reality, into the Invisible one; and in the second or third stanza, we
find ourselves in the World of Spirits; and dwell there, as among things
palpable, indubitable! To Dante they _were_ so; the real world, as it
is called, and its facts, was but the threshold to an infinitely higher
Fact of a World. At bottom, the one was as _preternatural_ as the other.
Has not each man a soul? He will not only be a spirit, but is one. To
the earnest Dante it is all one visible Fact; he believes it, sees it;
is the Poet of it in virtue of that. Sincerity, I say again, is the
saving merit, now as always.

Dante's Hell, Purgatory, Paradise, are a symbol withal, an emblematic
representation of his Belief about this Universe:--some Critic in a
future age, like those Scandinavian ones the other day, who has ceased
altogether to think as Dante did, may find this too all an "Allegory,"
perhaps an idle Allegory! It is a sublime embodiment, or sublimest,
of the soul of Christianity. It expresses, as in huge world-wide
architectural emblems, how the Christian Dante felt Good and Evil to
be the two polar elements of this Creation, on which it all turns;
that these two differ not by preferability of one to the other, but by
incompatibility absolute and infinite; that the one is excellent and
high as light and Heaven, the other hideous, black as Gehenna and the
Pit of Hell! Everlasting Justice, yet with Penitence, with everlasting
Pity,--all Christianism, as Dante and the Middle Ages had it, is
emblemed here. Emblemed: and yet, as I urged the other day, with
what entire truth of purpose; how unconscious of any embleming! Hell,
Purgatory, Paradise: these things were not fashioned as emblems; was
there, in our Modern European Mind, any thought at all of their being
emblems! Were they not indubitable awful facts; the whole heart of man
taking them for practically true, all Nature everywhere confirming them?
So is it always in these things. Men do not believe an Allegory. The
future Critic, whatever his new thought may be, who considers this
of Dante to have been all got up as an Allegory, will commit one sore
mistake!--Paganism we recognized as a veracious expression of the
earnest awe-struck feeling of man towards the Universe; veracious, true
once, and still not without worth for us. But mark here the difference
of Paganism and Christianism; one great difference. Paganism emblemed
chiefly the Operations of Nature; the destinies, efforts, combinations,
vicissitudes of things and men in this world; Christianism emblemed
the Law of Human Duty, the Moral Law of Man. One was for the sensuous
nature: a rude helpless utterance of the first Thought of men,--the
chief recognized virtue, Courage, Superiority to Fear. The other was not
for the sensuous nature, but for the moral. What a progress is here, if
in that one respect only--!

And so in this Dante, as we said, had ten silent centuries, in a very
strange way, found a voice. The _Divina Commedia_ is of Dante's writing;
yet in truth it belongs to ten Christian centuries, only the finishing
of it is Dante's. So always. The craftsman there, the smith with that
metal of his, with these tools, with these cunning methods,--how little
of all he does is properly _his_ work! All past inventive men work
there with him;--as indeed with all of us, in all things. Dante is the
spokesman of the Middle Ages; the Thought they lived by stands here, in
everlasting music. These sublime ideas of his, terrible and beautiful,
are the fruit of the Christian Meditation of all the good men who had
gone before him. Precious they; but also is not he precious? Much, had
not he spoken, would have been dumb; not dead, yet living voiceless.

On the whole, is it not an utterance, this mystic Song, at once of one
of the greatest human souls, and of the highest thing that Europe
had hitherto realized for itself? Christianism, as Dante sings it, is
another than Paganism in the rude Norse mind; another than "Bastard
Christianism" half-articulately spoken in the Arab Desert, seven hundred
years before!--The noblest _idea_ made _real_ hitherto among men, is
sung, and emblemed forth abidingly, by one of the noblest men. In the
one sense and in the other, are we not right glad to possess it? As I
calculate, it may last yet for long thousands of years. For the
thing that is uttered from the inmost parts of a man's soul, differs
altogether from what is uttered by the outer part. The outer is of the
day, under the empire of mode; the outer passes away, in swift endless
changes; the inmost is the same yesterday, to-day and forever. True
souls, in all generations of the world, who look on this Dante, will
find a brotherhood in him; the deep sincerity of his thoughts, his woes
and hopes, will speak likewise to their sincerity; they will feel that
this Dante too was a brother. Napoleon in Saint Helena is charmed with
the genial veracity of old Homer. The oldest Hebrew Prophet, under a
vesture the most diverse from ours, does yet, because he speaks from the
heart of man, speak to all men's hearts. It is the one sole secret of
continuing long memorable. Dante, for depth of sincerity, is like an
antique Prophet too; his words, like theirs, come from his very heart.
One need not wonder if it were predicted that his Poem might be the
most enduring thing our Europe has yet made; for nothing so endures as a
truly spoken word. All cathedrals, pontificalities, brass and stone,
and outer arrangement never so lasting, are brief in comparison to an
unfathomable heart-song like this: one feels as if it might survive,
still of importance to men, when these had all sunk into new
irrecognizable combinations, and had ceased individually to be. Europe
has made much; great cities, great empires, encyclopaedias, creeds,
bodies of opinion and practice: but it has made little of the class
of Dante's Thought. Homer yet _is_ veritably present face to face with
every open soul of us; and Greece, where is _it_? Desolate for thousands
of years; away, vanished; a bewildered heap of stones and rubbish, the
life and existence of it all gone. Like a dream; like the dust of King
Agamemnon! Greece was; Greece, except in the _words_ it spoke, is not.

The uses of this Dante? We will not say much about his "uses." A human
soul who has once got into that primal element of _Song_, and sung forth
fitly somewhat therefrom, has worked in the _depths_ of our existence;
feeding through long times the life-roots of all excellent human
things whatsoever,--in a way that "utilities" will not succeed well in
calculating! We will not estimate the Sun by the quantity of gaslight
it saves us; Dante shall be invaluable, or of no value. One remark I
may make: the contrast in this respect between the Hero-Poet and the
Hero-Prophet. In a hundred years, Mahomet, as we saw, had his Arabians
at Grenada and at Delhi; Dante's Italians seem to be yet very much where
they were. Shall we say, then, Dante's effect on the world was small in
comparison? Not so: his arena is far more restricted; but also it is far
nobler, clearer;--perhaps not less but more important. Mahomet speaks
to great masses of men, in the coarse dialect adapted to such; a dialect
filled with inconsistencies, crudities, follies: on the great masses
alone can he act, and there with good and with evil strangely blended.
Dante speaks to the noble, the pure and great, in all times and places.
Neither does he grow obsolete, as the other does. Dante burns as a pure
star, fixed there in the firmament, at which the great and the high of
all ages kindle themselves: he is the possession of all the chosen of
the world for uncounted time. Dante, one calculates, may long survive
Mahomet. In this way the balance may be made straight again.

But, at any rate, it is not by what is called their effect on the world,
by what _we_ can judge of their effect there, that a man and his work
are measured. Effect? Influence? Utility? Let a man _do_ his work; the
fruit of it is the care of Another than he. It will grow its own fruit;
and whether embodied in Caliph Thrones and Arabian Conquests, so that it
"fills all Morning and Evening Newspapers," and all Histories, which are
a kind of distilled Newspapers; or not embodied so at all;--what matters
that? That is not the real fruit of it! The Arabian Caliph, in so far
only as he did something, was something. If the great Cause of Man, and
Man's work in God's Earth, got no furtherance from the Arabian Caliph,
then no matter how many scimetars he drew, how many gold piasters
pocketed, and what uproar and blaring he made in this world,--_he_ was
but a loud-sounding inanity and futility; at bottom, he _was_ not
at all. Let us honor the great empire of _Silence_, once more! The
boundless treasury which we do not jingle in our pockets, or count up
and present before men! It is perhaps, of all things, the usefulest for
each of us to do, in these loud times.--

As Dante, the Italian man, was sent into our world to embody musically
the Religion of the Middle Ages, the Religion of our Modern Europe, its
Inner Life; so Shakspeare, we may say, embodies for us the Outer Life
of our Europe as developed then, its chivalries, courtesies, humors,
ambitions, what practical way of thinking, acting, looking at the
world, men then had. As in Homer we may still construe Old Greece; so in
Shakspeare and Dante, after thousands of years, what our modern Europe
was, in Faith and in Practice, will still be legible. Dante has given us
the Faith or soul; Shakspeare, in a not less noble way, has given us the
Practice or body. This latter also we were to have; a man was sent for
it, the man Shakspeare. Just when that chivalry way of life had reached
its last finish, and was on the point of breaking down into slow or
swift dissolution, as we now see it everywhere, this other sovereign
Poet, with his seeing eye, with his perennial singing voice, was sent to
take note of it, to give long-enduring record of it. Two fit men: Dante,
deep, fierce as the central fire of the world; Shakspeare, wide, placid,
far-seeing, as the Sun, the upper light of the world. Italy produced the
one world-voice; we English had the honor of producing the other.

Curious enough how, as it were by mere accident, this man came to us.
I think always, so great, quiet, complete and self-sufficing is
this Shakspeare, had the Warwickshire Squire not prosecuted him for
deer-stealing, we had perhaps never heard of him as a Poet! The woods
and skies, the rustic Life of Man in Stratford there, had been enough
for this man! But indeed that strange outbudding of our whole English
Existence, which we call the Elizabethan Era, did not it too come as
of its own accord? The "Tree Igdrasil" buds and withers by its own
laws,--too deep for our scanning. Yet it does bud and wither, and every
bough and leaf of it is there, by fixed eternal laws; not a Sir
Thomas Lucy but comes at the hour fit for him. Curious, I say, and not
sufficiently considered: how everything does co-operate with all; not
a leaf rotting on the highway but is indissoluble portion of solar and
stellar systems; no thought, word or act of man but has sprung
withal out of all men, and works sooner or later, recognizably or
irrecognizable, on all men! It is all a Tree: circulation of sap and
influences, mutual communication of every minutest leaf with the lowest
talon of a root, with every other greatest and minutest portion of the
whole. The Tree Igdrasil, that has its roots down in the Kingdoms of
Hela and Death, and whose boughs overspread the highest Heaven--!

In some sense it may be said that this glorious Elizabethan Era with its
Shakspeare, as the outcome and flowerage of all which had preceded
it, is itself attributable to the Catholicism of the Middle Ages. The
Christian Faith, which was the theme of Dante's Song, had produced this
Practical Life which Shakspeare was to sing. For Religion then, as it
now and always is, was the soul of Practice; the primary vital fact
in men's life. And remark here, as rather curious, that Middle-Age
Catholicism was abolished, so far as Acts of Parliament could abolish
it, before Shakspeare, the noblest product of it, made his appearance.
He did make his appearance nevertheless. Nature at her own time, with
Catholicism or what else might be necessary, sent him forth; taking
small thought of Acts of Parliament. King Henrys, Queen Elizabeths go
their way; and Nature too goes hers. Acts of Parliament, on the whole,
are small, notwithstanding the noise they make. What Act of Parliament,
debate at St. Stephen's, on the hustings or elsewhere, was it that
brought this Shakspeare into being? No dining at Freemason's Tavern,
opening subscription-lists, selling of shares, and infinite other
jangling and true or false endeavoring! This Elizabethan Era, and all
its nobleness and blessedness, came without proclamation, preparation of
ours. Priceless Shakspeare was the free gift of Nature; given altogether
silently;--received altogether silently, as if it had been a thing of
little account. And yet, very literally, it is a priceless thing. One
should look at that side of matters too.

Of this Shakspeare of ours, perhaps the opinion one sometimes hears a
little idolatrously expressed is, in fact, the right one; I think the
best judgment not of this country only, but of Europe at large, is
slowly pointing to the conclusion, that Shakspeare is the chief of all
Poets hitherto; the greatest intellect who, in our recorded world, has
left record of himself in the way of Literature. On the whole, I know
not such a power of vision, such a faculty of thought, if we take all
the characters of it, in any other man. Such a calmness of depth; placid
joyous strength; all things imaged in that great soul of his so true and
clear, as in a tranquil unfathomable sea! It has been said, that in
the constructing of Shakspeare's Dramas there is, apart from all other
"faculties" as they are called, an understanding manifested, equal to
that in Bacon's _Novum Organum_ That is true; and it is not a truth that
strikes every one. It would become more apparent if we tried, any of
us for himself, how, out of Shakspeare's dramatic materials, _we_ could
fashion such a result! The built house seems all so fit,--every way
as it should be, as if it came there by its own law and the nature of
things,--we forget the rude disorderly quarry it was shaped from. The
very perfection of the house, as if Nature herself had made it, hides
the builder's merit. Perfect, more perfect than any other man, we
may call Shakspeare in this: he discerns, knows as by instinct, what
condition he works under, what his materials are, what his own force and
its relation to them is. It is not a transitory glance of insight that
will suffice; it is deliberate illumination of the whole matter; it is
a calmly _seeing_ eye; a great intellect, in short. How a man, of some
wide thing that he has witnessed, will construct a narrative, what kind
of picture and delineation he will give of it,--is the best measure you
could get of what intellect is in the man. Which circumstance is vital
and shall stand prominent; which unessential, fit to be suppressed;
where is the true _beginning_, the true sequence and ending? To find out
this, you task the whole force of insight that is in the man. He must
_understand_ the thing; according to the depth of his understanding,
will the fitness of his answer be. You will try him so. Does like join
itself to like; does the spirit of method stir in that confusion, so
that its embroilment becomes order? Can the man say, _Fiat lux_, Let
there be light; and out of chaos make a world? Precisely as there is
light in himself, will he accomplish this.

Or indeed we may say again, it is in what I called Portrait-painting,
delineating of men and things, especially of men, that Shakspeare is
great. All the greatness of the man comes out decisively here. It is
unexampled, I think, that calm creative perspicacity of Shakspeare. The
thing he looks at reveals not this or that face of it, but its inmost
heart, and generic secret: it dissolves itself as in light before him,
so that he discerns the perfect structure of it. Creative, we said:
poetic creation, what is this too but _seeing_ the thing sufficiently?
The _word_ that will describe the thing, follows of itself from such
clear intense sight of the thing. And is not Shakspeare's _morality_,
his valor, candor, tolerance, truthfulness; his whole victorious
strength and greatness, which can triumph over such obstructions,
visible there too? Great as the world. No _twisted_, poor convex-concave
mirror, reflecting all objects with its own convexities and concavities;
a perfectly _level_ mirror;--that is to say withal, if we will
understand it, a man justly related to all things and men, a good man.
It is truly a lordly spectacle how this great soul takes in all kinds
of men and objects, a Falstaff, an Othello, a Juliet, a Coriolanus;
sets them all forth to us in their round completeness; loving, just, the
equal brother of all. _Novum Organum_, and all the intellect you will
find in Bacon, is of a quite secondary order; earthy, material, poor in
comparison with this. Among modern men, one finds, in strictness, almost
nothing of the same rank. Goethe alone, since the days of Shakspeare,
reminds me of it. Of him too you say that he _saw_ the object; you may
say what he himself says of Shakspeare: "His characters are like watches
with dial-plates of transparent crystal; they show you the hour like
others, and the inward mechanism also is all visible."

The seeing eye! It is this that discloses the inner harmony of things;
what Nature meant, what musical idea Nature has wrapped up in these
often rough embodiments. Something she did mean. To the seeing eye that
something were discernible. Are they base, miserable things? You can
laugh over them, you can weep over them; you can in some way or other
genially relate yourself to them;--you can, at lowest, hold your peace
about them, turn away your own and others' face from them, till the hour
come for practically exterminating and extinguishing them! At bottom,
it is the Poet's first gift, as it is all men's, that he have intellect
enough. He will be a Poet if he have: a Poet in word; or failing that,
perhaps still better, a Poet in act. Whether he write at all; and if
so, whether in prose or in verse, will depend on accidents: who knows
on what extremely trivial accidents,--perhaps on his having had a
singing-master, on his being taught to sing in his boyhood! But the
faculty which enables him to discern the inner heart of things, and the
harmony that dwells there (for whatsoever exists has a harmony in the
heart of it, or it would not hold together and exist), is not the result
of habits or accidents, but the gift of Nature herself; the primary
outfit for a Heroic Man in what sort soever. To the Poet, as to every
other, we say first of all, _See_. If you cannot do that, it is of no
use to keep stringing rhymes together, jingling sensibilities against
each other, and _name_ yourself a Poet; there is no hope for you. If you
can, there is, in prose or verse, in action or speculation, all manner
of hope. The crabbed old Schoolmaster used to ask, when they brought him
a new pupil, "But are ye sure he's _not a dunce_?" Why, really one
might ask the same thing, in regard to every man proposed for whatsoever
function; and consider it as the one inquiry needful: Are ye sure he's
not a dunce? There is, in this world, no other entirely fatal person.

For, in fact, I say the degree of vision that dwells in a man is a
correct measure of the man. If called to define Shakspeare's faculty, I
should say superiority of Intellect, and think I had included all under
that. What indeed are faculties? We talk of faculties as if they were
distinct, things separable; as if a man had intellect, imagination,
fancy, &c., as he has hands, feet and arms. That is a capital error.
Then again, we hear of a man's "intellectual nature," and of his
"moral nature," as if these again were divisible, and existed apart.
Necessities of language do perhaps prescribe such forms of utterance;
we must speak, I am aware, in that way, if we are to speak at all.
But words ought not to harden into things for us. It seems to me, our
apprehension of this matter is, for most part, radically falsified
thereby. We ought to know withal, and to keep forever in mind, that
these divisions are at bottom but _names_; that man's spiritual nature,
the vital Force which dwells in him, is essentially one and indivisible;
that what we call imagination, fancy, understanding, and so forth, are
but different figures of the same Power of Insight, all indissolubly
connected with each other, physiognomically related; that if we knew one
of them, we might know all of them. Morality itself, what we call the
moral quality of a man, what is this but another _side_ of the one vital
Force whereby he is and works? All that a man does is physiognomical of
him. You may see how a man would fight, by the way in which he sings;
his courage, or want of courage, is visible in the word he utters, in
the opinion he has formed, no less than in the stroke he strikes. He is
_one_; and preaches the same Self abroad in all these ways.

Without hands a man might have feet, and could still walk: but, consider
it,--without morality, intellect were impossible for him; a thoroughly
immoral _man_ could not know anything at all! To know a thing, what we
can call knowing, a man must first _love_ the thing, sympathize with it:
that is, be _virtuously_ related to it. If he have not the justice to
put down his own selfishness at every turn, the courage to stand by the
dangerous-true at every turn, how shall he know? His virtues, all
of them, will lie recorded in his knowledge. Nature, with her truth,
remains to the bad, to the selfish and the pusillanimous forever a
sealed book: what such can know of Nature is mean, superficial,
small; for the uses of the day merely.--But does not the very Fox know
something of Nature? Exactly so: it knows where the geese lodge! The
human Reynard, very frequent everywhere in the world, what more does he
know but this and the like of this? Nay, it should be considered too,
that if the Fox had not a certain vulpine _morality_, he could not even
know where the geese were, or get at the geese! If he spent his time
in splenetic atrabiliar reflections on his own misery, his ill usage
by Nature, Fortune and other Foxes, and so forth; and had not courage,
promptitude, practicality, and other suitable vulpine gifts and graces,
he would catch no geese. We may say of the Fox too, that his morality
and insight are of the same dimensions; different faces of the same
internal unity of vulpine life!--These things are worth stating; for
the contrary of them acts with manifold very baleful perversion, in this
time: what limitations, modifications they require, your own candor will

If I say, therefore, that Shakspeare is the greatest of Intellects,
I have said all concerning him. But there is more in Shakspeare's
intellect than we have yet seen. It is what I call an unconscious
intellect; there is more virtue in it than he himself is aware of.
Novalis beautifully remarks of him, that those Dramas of his are
Products of Nature too, deep as Nature herself. I find a great truth in
this saying. Shakspeare's Art is not Artifice; the noblest worth of it
is not there by plan or precontrivance. It grows up from the deeps of
Nature, through this noble sincere soul, who is a voice of Nature. The
latest generations of men will find new meanings in Shakspeare, new
elucidations of their own human being; "new harmonies with the infinite
structure of the Universe; concurrences with later ideas, affinities
with the higher powers and senses of man." This well deserves
meditating. It is Nature's highest reward to a true simple great
soul, that he get thus to be _a part of herself_. Such a man's works,
whatsoever he with utmost conscious exertion and forethought shall
accomplish, grow up withal unconsciously, from the unknown deeps in
him;--as the oak-tree grows from the Earth's bosom, as the mountains and
waters shape themselves; with a symmetry grounded on Nature's own laws,
conformable to all Truth whatsoever. How much in Shakspeare lies hid;
his sorrows, his silent struggles known to himself; much that was not
known at all, not speakable at all: like _roots_, like sap and forces
working underground! Speech is great; but Silence is greater.

Withal the joyful tranquillity of this man is notable. I will not
blame Dante for his misery: it is as battle without victory; but true
battle,--the first, indispensable thing. Yet I call Shakspeare greater
than Dante, in that he fought truly, and did conquer. Doubt it not, he
had his own sorrows: those _Sonnets_ of his will even testify expressly
in what deep waters he had waded, and swum struggling for his life;--as
what man like him ever failed to have to do? It seems to me a heedless
notion, our common one, that he sat like a bird on the bough; and sang
forth, free and off-hand, never knowing the troubles of other men. Not
so; with no man is it so. How could a man travel forward from rustic
deer-poaching to such tragedy-writing, and not fall in with sorrows
by the way? Or, still better, how could a man delineate a Hamlet, a
Coriolanus, a Macbeth, so many suffering heroic hearts, if his own
heroic heart had never suffered?--And now, in contrast with all this,
observe his mirthfulness, his genuine overflowing love of laughter! You
would say, in no point does he _exaggerate_ but only in laughter. Fiery
objurgations, words that pierce and burn, are to be found in Shakspeare;
yet he is always in measure here; never what Johnson would remark as
a specially "good hater." But his laughter seems to pour from him in
floods; he heaps all manner of ridiculous nicknames on the butt he is
bantering, tumbles and tosses him in all sorts of horse-play; you would
say, with his whole heart laughs. And then, if not always the finest, it
is always a genial laughter. Not at mere weakness, at misery or poverty;
never. No man who _can_ laugh, what we call laughing, will laugh at
these things. It is some poor character only _desiring_ to laugh, and
have the credit of wit, that does so. Laughter means sympathy; good
laughter is not "the crackling of thorns under the pot." Even at
stupidity and pretension this Shakspeare does not laugh otherwise than
genially. Dogberry and Verges tickle our very hearts; and we dismiss
them covered with explosions of laughter: but we like the poor fellows
only the better for our laughing; and hope they will get on well there,
and continue Presidents of the City-watch. Such laughter, like sunshine
on the deep sea, is very beautiful to me.

We have no room to speak of Shakspeare's individual works; though
perhaps there is much still waiting to be said on that head. Had we, for
instance, all his plays reviewed as _Hamlet_, in _Wilhelm Meister_, is!
A thing which might, one day, be done. August Wilhelm Schlegel has a
remark on his Historical Plays, _Henry Fifth_ and the others, which is
worth remembering. He calls them a kind of National Epic. Marlborough,
you recollect, said, he knew no English History but what he had learned
from Shakspeare. There are really, if we look to it, few as memorable
Histories. The great salient points are admirably seized; all rounds
itself off, into a kind of rhythmic coherence; it is, as Schlegel says,
epic;--as indeed all delineation by a great thinker will be. There are
right beautiful things in those Pieces, which indeed together form one
beautiful thing. That battle of Agincourt strikes me as one of the
most perfect things, in its sort, we anywhere have of Shakspeare's. The
description of the two hosts: the worn-out, jaded English; the dread
hour, big with destiny, when the battle shall begin; and then that
deathless valor: "Ye good yeomen, whose limbs were made in England!"
There is a noble Patriotism in it,--far other than the "indifference"
you sometimes hear ascribed to Shakspeare. A true English heart
breathes, calm and strong, through the whole business; not boisterous,
protrusive; all the better for that. There is a sound in it like the
ring of steel. This man too had a right stroke in him, had it come to

But I will say, of Shakspeare's works generally, that we have no full
impress of him there; even as full as we have of many men. His works are
so many windows, through which we see a glimpse of the world that was
in him. All his works seem, comparatively speaking, cursory, imperfect,
written under cramping circumstances; giving only here and there a note
of the full utterance of the man. Passages there are that come upon you
like splendor out of Heaven; bursts of radiance, illuminating the very
heart of the thing: you say, "That is _true_, spoken once and forever;
wheresoever and whensoever there is an open human soul, that will
be recognized as true!" Such bursts, however, make us feel that the
surrounding matter is not radiant; that it is, in part, temporary,
conventional. Alas, Shakspeare had to write for the Globe Playhouse:
his great soul had to crush itself, as it could, into that and no other
mould. It was with him, then, as it is with us all. No man works save
under conditions. The sculptor cannot set his own free Thought before
us; but his Thought as he could translate it into the stone that was
given, with the tools that were given. _Disjecta membra_ are all that we
find of any Poet, or of any man.

Whoever looks intelligently at this Shakspeare may recognize that he too
was a _Prophet_, in his way; of an insight analogous to the Prophetic,
though he took it up in another strain. Nature seemed to this man also
divine; unspeakable, deep as Tophet, high as Heaven; "We are such stuff
as Dreams are made of!" That scroll in Westminster Abbey, which few read
with understanding, is of the depth of any seer. But the man sang; did
not preach, except musically. We called Dante the melodious Priest
of Middle-Age Catholicism. May we not call Shakspeare the still more
melodious Priest of a _true_ Catholicism, the "Universal Church" of
the Future and of all times? No narrow superstition, harsh asceticism,
intolerance, fanatical fierceness or perversion: a Revelation, so far as
it goes, that such a thousand-fold hidden beauty and divineness dwells
in all Nature; which let all men worship as they can! We may say
without offence, that there rises a kind of universal Psalm out of this
Shakspeare too; not unfit to make itself heard among the still more
sacred Psalms. Not in disharmony with these, if we understood them, but
in harmony!--I cannot call this Shakspeare a "Sceptic," as some do;
his indifference to the creeds and theological quarrels of his time
misleading them. No: neither unpatriotic, though he says little about
his Patriotism; nor sceptic, though he says little about his Faith. Such
"indifference" was the fruit of his greatness withal: his whole heart
was in his own grand sphere of worship (we may call it such); these
other controversies, vitally important to other men, were not vital to

But call it worship, call it what you will, is it not a right glorious
thing, and set of things, this that Shakspeare has brought us? For
myself, I feel that there is actually a kind of sacredness in the fact
of such a man being sent into this Earth. Is he not an eye to us all;
a blessed heaven-sent Bringer of Light?--And, at bottom, was it not
perhaps far better that this Shakspeare, every way an unconscious man,
was _conscious_ of no Heavenly message? He did not feel, like Mahomet,
because he saw into those internal Splendors, that he specially was the
"Prophet of God:" and was he not greater than Mahomet in that? Greater;
and also, if we compute strictly, as we did in Dante's case, more
successful. It was intrinsically an error that notion of Mahomet's, of
his supreme Prophethood; and has come down to us inextricably involved
in error to this day; dragging along with it such a coil of fables,
impurities, intolerances, as makes it a questionable step for me here
and now to say, as I have done, that Mahomet was a true Speaker at all,
and not rather an ambitious charlatan, perversity and simulacrum; no
Speaker, but a Babbler! Even in Arabia, as I compute, Mahomet will have
exhausted himself and become obsolete, while this Shakspeare, this Dante
may still be young;--while this Shakspeare may still pretend to be a
Priest of Mankind, of Arabia as of other places, for unlimited periods
to come!

Compared with any speaker or singer one knows, even with Aeschylus or
Homer, why should he not, for veracity and universality, last like them?
He is _sincere_ as they; reaches deep down like them, to the universal
and perennial. But as for Mahomet, I think it had been better for
him _not_ to be so conscious! Alas, poor Mahomet; all that he was
_conscious_ of was a mere error; a futility and triviality,--as indeed
such ever is. The truly great in him too was the unconscious: that he
was a wild Arab lion of the desert, and did speak out with that great
thunder-voice of his, not by words which he _thought_ to be great, but
by actions, by feelings, by a history which _were_ great! His Koran has
become a stupid piece of prolix absurdity; we do not believe, like him,
that God wrote that! The Great Man here too, as always, is a Force
of Nature. Whatsoever is truly great in him springs up from the
_in_articulate deeps.

Well: this is our poor Warwickshire Peasant, who rose to be Manager of
a Playhouse, so that he could live without begging; whom the Earl of
Southampton cast some kind glances on; whom Sir Thomas Lucy, many thanks
to him, was for sending to the Treadmill! We did not account him a god,
like Odin, while he dwelt with us;--on which point there were much to
be said. But I will say rather, or repeat: In spite of the sad state
Hero-worship now lies in, consider what this Shakspeare has actually
become among us. Which Englishman we ever made, in this land of ours,
which million of Englishmen, would we not give up rather than the
Stratford Peasant? There is no regiment of highest Dignitaries that we
would sell him for. He is the grandest thing we have yet done. For our
honor among foreign nations, as an ornament to our English Household,
what item is there that we would not surrender rather than him? Consider
now, if they asked us, Will you give up your Indian Empire or your
Shakspeare, you English; never have had any Indian Empire, or never have
had any Shakspeare? Really it were a grave question. Official persons
would answer doubtless in official language; but we, for our part too,
should not we be forced to answer: Indian Empire, or no Indian Empire;
we cannot do without Shakspeare! Indian Empire will go, at any rate,
some day; but this Shakspeare does not go, he lasts forever with us; we
cannot give up our Shakspeare!

Nay, apart from spiritualities; and considering him merely as a real,
marketable, tangibly useful possession. England, before long, this
Island of ours, will hold but a small fraction of the English: in
America, in New Holland, east and west to the very Antipodes, there will
be a Saxondom covering great spaces of the Globe. And now, what is it
that can keep all these together into virtually one Nation, so that
they do not fall out and fight, but live at peace, in brotherlike
intercourse, helping one another? This is justly regarded as the
greatest practical problem, the thing all manner of sovereignties and
governments are here to accomplish: what is it that will accomplish
this? Acts of Parliament, administrative prime-ministers cannot. America
is parted from us, so far as Parliament could part it. Call it not
fantastic, for there is much reality in it: Here, I say, is an English
King, whom no time or chance, Parliament or combination of Parliaments,
can dethrone! This King Shakspeare, does not he shine, in crowned
sovereignty, over us all, as the noblest, gentlest, yet strongest of
rallying-signs; indestructible; really more valuable in that point of
view than any other means or appliance whatsoever? We can fancy him
as radiant aloft over all the Nations of Englishmen, a thousand years
hence. From Paramatta, from New York, wheresoever, under what sort of
Parish-Constable soever, English men and women are, they will say to one
another: "Yes, this Shakspeare is ours; we produced him, we speak
and think by him; we are of one blood and kind with him." The most
common-sense politician, too, if he pleases, may think of that.

Yes, truly, it is a great thing for a Nation that it get an articulate
voice; that it produce a man who will speak forth melodiously what the
heart of it means! Italy, for example, poor Italy lies dismembered,
scattered asunder, not appearing in any protocol or treaty as a unity
at all; yet the noble Italy is actually _one_: Italy produced its Dante;
Italy can speak! The Czar of all the Russias, he is strong with so many
bayonets, Cossacks and cannons; and does a great feat in keeping such a
tract of Earth politically together; but he cannot yet speak. Something
great in him, but it is a dumb greatness. He has had no voice of genius,
to be heard of all men and times. He must learn to speak. He is a great
dumb monster hitherto. His cannons and Cossacks will all have rusted
into nonentity, while that Dante's voice is still audible. The Nation
that has a Dante is bound together as no dumb Russia can be.--We must
here end what we had to say of the _Hero-Poet_.


[May 15, 1840.]

Our present discourse is to be of the Great Man as Priest. We
have repeatedly endeavored to explain that all sorts of Heroes are
intrinsically of the same material; that given a great soul, open to the
Divine Significance of Life, then there is given a man fit to speak
of this, to sing of this, to fight and work for this, in a great,
victorious, enduring manner; there is given a Hero,--the outward shape
of whom will depend on the time and the environment he finds himself
in. The Priest too, as I understand it, is a kind of Prophet; in him too
there is required to be a light of inspiration, as we must name it. He
presides over the worship of the people; is the Uniter of them with the
Unseen Holy. He is the spiritual Captain of the people; as the Prophet
is their spiritual King with many captains: he guides them heavenward,
by wise guidance through this Earth and its work. The ideal of him
is, that he too be what we can call a voice from the unseen Heaven;
interpreting, even as the Prophet did, and in a more familiar manner
unfolding the same to men. The unseen Heaven,--the "open secret of the
Universe,"--which so few have an eye for! He is the Prophet shorn of
his more awful splendor; burning with mild equable radiance, as the
enlightener of daily life. This, I say, is the ideal of a Priest. So in
old times; so in these, and in all times. One knows very well that, in
reducing ideals to practice, great latitude of tolerance is needful;
very great. But a Priest who is not this at all, who does not any longer
aim or try to be this, is a character--of whom we had rather not speak
in this place.

Luther and Knox were by express vocation Priests, and did faithfully
perform that function in its common sense. Yet it will suit us better
here to consider them chiefly in their historical character, rather as
Reformers than Priests. There have been other Priests perhaps equally
notable, in calmer times, for doing faithfully the office of a Leader of
Worship; bringing down, by faithful heroism in that kind, a light from
Heaven into the daily life of their people; leading them forward, as
under God's guidance, in the way wherein they were to go. But when
this same _way_ was a rough one, of battle, confusion and danger, the
spiritual Captain, who led through that, becomes, especially to us who
live under the fruit of his leading, more notable than any other. He
is the warfaring and battling Priest; who led his people, not to quiet
faithful labor as in smooth times, but to faithful valorous conflict,
in times all violent, dismembered: a more perilous service, and a more
memorable one, be it higher or not. These two men we will account our
best Priests, inasmuch as they were our best Reformers. Nay I may ask,
Is not every true Reformer, by the nature of him, a _Priest_ first of
all? He appeals to Heaven's invisible justice against Earth's visible
force; knows that it, the invisible, is strong and alone strong. He is
a believer in the divine truth of things; a _seer_, seeing through the
shows of things; a worshipper, in one way or the other, of the divine
truth of things; a Priest, that is. If he be not first a Priest, he will
never be good for much as a Reformer.

Thus then, as we have seen Great Men, in various situations, building
up Religions, heroic Forms of human Existence in this world, Theories
of Life worthy to be sung by a Dante, Practices of Life by a
Shakspeare,--we are now to see the reverse process; which also is
necessary, which also may be carried on in the Heroic manner. Curious
how this should be necessary: yet necessary it is. The mild shining
of the Poet's light has to give place to the fierce lightning of the
Reformer: unfortunately the Reformer too is a personage that cannot
fail in History! The Poet indeed, with his mildness, what is he but
the product and ultimate adjustment of Reform, or Prophecy, with its
fierceness? No wild Saint Dominics and Thebaid Eremites, there had been
no melodious Dante; rough Practical Endeavor, Scandinavian and other,
from Odin to Walter Raleigh, from Ulfila to Cranmer, enabled Shakspeare
to speak. Nay the finished Poet, I remark sometimes, is a symptom that
his epoch itself has reached perfection and is finished; that before
long there will be a new epoch, new Reformers needed.

Doubtless it were finer, could we go along always in the way of _music_;
be tamed and taught by our Poets, as the rude creatures were by their
Orpheus of old. Or failing this rhythmic _musical_ way, how good were it
could we get so much as into the _equable_ way; I mean, if _peaceable_
Priests, reforming from day to day, would always suffice us! But it is
not so; even this latter has not yet been realized. Alas, the battling
Reformer too is, from time to time, a needful and inevitable phenomenon.
Obstructions are never wanting: the very things that were once
indispensable furtherances become obstructions; and need to be shaken
off, and left behind us,--a business often of enormous difficulty. It is
notable enough, surely, how a Theorem or spiritual Representation, so we
may call it, which once took in the whole Universe, and was completely
satisfactory in all parts of it to the highly discursive acute intellect
of Dante, one of the greatest in the world,--had in the course of
another century become dubitable to common intellects; become deniable;
and is now, to every one of us, flatly incredible, obsolete as Odin's
Theorem! To Dante, human Existence, and God's ways with men, were all
well represented by those _Malebolges_, _Purgatorios_; to Luther not
well. How was this? Why could not Dante's Catholicism continue; but
Luther's Protestantism must needs follow? Alas, nothing will _continue_.

I do not make much of "Progress of the Species," as handled in these
times of ours; nor do I think you would care to hear much about it.
The talk on that subject is too often of the most extravagant, confused
sort. Yet I may say, the fact itself seems certain enough; nay we can
trace out the inevitable necessity of it in the nature of things. Every
man, as I have stated somewhere, is not only a learner but a doer: he
learns with the mind given him what has been; but with the same mind
he discovers farther, he invents and devises somewhat of his own.
Absolutely without originality there is no man. No man whatever
believes, or can believe, exactly what his grandfather believed: he
enlarges somewhat, by fresh discovery, his view of the Universe, and
consequently his Theorem of the Universe,--which is an _infinite_
Universe, and can never be embraced wholly or finally by any view or
Theorem, in any conceivable enlargement: he enlarges somewhat, I say;
finds somewhat that was credible to his grandfather incredible to him,
false to him, inconsistent with some new thing he has discovered or
observed. It is the history of every man; and in the history of Mankind
we see it summed up into great historical amounts,--revolutions, new
epochs. Dante's Mountain of Purgatory does _not_ stand "in the ocean of
the other Hemisphere," when Columbus has once sailed thither! Men find
no such thing extant in the other Hemisphere. It is not there. It must
cease to be believed to be there. So with all beliefs whatsoever in this
world,--all Systems of Belief, and Systems of Practice that spring from

If we add now the melancholy fact, that when Belief waxes uncertain,
Practice too becomes unsound, and errors, injustices and miseries
everywhere more and more prevail, we shall see material enough for
revolution. At all turns, a man who will _do_ faithfully, needs to
believe firmly. If he have to ask at every turn the world's suffrage; if
he cannot dispense with the world's suffrage, and make his own suffrage
serve, he is a poor eye-servant; the work committed to him will be
_mis_done. Every such man is a daily contributor to the inevitable
downfall. Whatsoever work he does, dishonestly, with an eye to the
outward look of it, is a new offence, parent of new misery to somebody
or other. Offences accumulate till they become insupportable; and are
then violently burst through, cleared off as by explosion. Dante's
sublime Catholicism, incredible now in theory, and defaced still worse
by faithless, doubting and dishonest practice, has to be torn asunder by
a Luther, Shakspeare's noble Feudalism, as beautiful as it once looked
and was, has to end in a French Revolution. The accumulation of offences
is, as we say, too literally _exploded_, blasted asunder volcanically;
and there are long troublous periods, before matters come to a
settlement again.

Surely it were mournful enough to look only at this face of the matter,
and find in all human opinions and arrangements merely the fact that
they were uncertain, temporary, subject to the law of death! At bottom,
it is not so: all death, here too we find, is but of the body, not of
the essence or soul; all destruction, by violent revolution or howsoever
it be, is but new creation on a wider scale. Odinism was _Valor_;
Christianism was _Humility_, a nobler kind of Valor. No thought that
ever dwelt honestly as true in the heart of man but _was_ an honest
insight into God's truth on man's part, and _has_ an essential truth in
it which endures through all changes, an everlasting possession for us
all. And, on the other hand, what a melancholy notion is that, which
has to represent all men, in all countries and times except our own, as
having spent their life in blind condemnable error, mere lost Pagans,
Scandinavians, Mahometans, only that we might have the true ultimate
knowledge! All generations of men were lost and wrong, only that this
present little section of a generation might be saved and right. They
all marched forward there, all generations since the beginning of the
world, like the Russian soldiers into the ditch of Schweidnitz Fort,
only to fill up the ditch with their dead bodies, that we might march
over and take the place! It is an incredible hypothesis.

Such incredible hypothesis we have seen maintained with fierce emphasis;
and this or the other poor individual man, with his sect of individual
men, marching as over the dead bodies of all men, towards sure victory
but when he too, with his hypothesis and ultimate infallible credo, sank
into the ditch, and became a dead body, what was to be said?--Withal, it
is an important fact in the nature of man, that he tends to reckon his
own insight as final, and goes upon it as such. He will always do it,
I suppose, in one or the other way; but it must be in some wider, wiser
way than this. Are not all true men that live, or that ever lived,
soldiers of the same army, enlisted, under Heaven's captaincy, to do
battle against the same enemy, the empire of Darkness and Wrong? Why
should we misknow one another, fight not against the enemy but against
ourselves, from mere difference of uniform? All uniforms shall be good,
so they hold in them true valiant men. All fashions of arms, the Arab
turban and swift scimetar, Thor's strong hammer smiting down _Jotuns_,
shall be welcome. Luther's battle-voice, Dante's march-melody, all
genuine things are with us, not against us. We are all under one
Captain, soldiers of the same host.--Let us now look a little at this
Luther's fighting; what kind of battle it was, and how he comported
himself in it. Luther too was of our spiritual Heroes; a Prophet to his
country and time.

As introductory to the whole, a remark about Idolatry will perhaps be
in place here. One of Mahomet's characteristics, which indeed belongs to
all Prophets, is unlimited implacable zeal against Idolatry. It is the
grand theme of Prophets: Idolatry, the worshipping of dead Idols as
the Divinity, is a thing they cannot away with, but have to denounce
continually, and brand with inexpiable reprobation; it is the chief of
all the sins they see done under the sun. This is worth noting. We will
not enter here into the theological question about Idolatry. Idol is
_Eidolon_, a thing seen, a symbol. It is not God, but a Symbol of God;
and perhaps one may question whether any the most benighted mortal ever
took it for more than a Symbol. I fancy, he did not think that the poor
image his own hands had made _was_ God; but that God was emblemed by
it, that God was in it some way or other. And now in this sense, one may
ask, Is not all worship whatsoever a worship by Symbols, by _eidola_, or
things seen? Whether _seen_, rendered visible as an image or picture to
the bodily eye; or visible only to the inward eye, to the imagination,
to the intellect: this makes a superficial, but no substantial
difference. It is still a Thing Seen, significant of Godhead; an Idol.
The most rigorous Puritan has his Confession of Faith, and intellectual
Representation of Divine things, and worships thereby; thereby is
worship first made possible for him. All creeds, liturgies, religious
forms, conceptions that fitly invest religious feelings, are in this
sense _eidola_, things seen. All worship whatsoever must proceed by
Symbols, by Idols:--we may say, all Idolatry is comparative, and the
worst Idolatry is only _more_ idolatrous.

Where, then, lies the evil of it? Some fatal evil must lie in it, or
earnest prophetic men would not on all hands so reprobate it. Why is
Idolatry so hateful to Prophets? It seems to me as if, in the worship
of those poor wooden symbols, the thing that had chiefly provoked the
Prophet, and filled his inmost soul with indignation and aversion, was
not exactly what suggested itself to his own thought, and came out of
him in words to others, as the thing. The rudest heathen that worshipped
Canopus, or the Caabah Black-Stone, he, as we saw, was superior to the
horse that worshipped nothing at all! Nay there was a kind of lasting
merit in that poor act of his; analogous to what is still meritorious in
Poets: recognition of a certain endless _divine_ beauty and significance
in stars and all natural objects whatsoever. Why should the Prophet
so mercilessly condemn him? The poorest mortal worshipping his Fetish,
while his heart is full of it, may be an object of pity, of contempt and
avoidance, if you will; but cannot surely be an object of hatred. Let
his heart _be_ honestly full of it, the whole space of his dark narrow
mind illuminated thereby; in one word, let him entirely _believe_ in
his Fetish,--it will then be, I should say, if not well with him, yet
as well as it can readily be made to be, and you will leave him alone,
unmolested there.

But here enters the fatal circumstance of Idolatry, that, in the era
of the Prophets, no man's mind _is_ any longer honestly filled with his
Idol or Symbol. Before the Prophet can arise who, seeing through it,
knows it to be mere wood, many men must have begun dimly to doubt that
it was little more. Condemnable Idolatry is _insincere_ Idolatry.
Doubt has eaten out the heart of it: a human soul is seen clinging
spasmodically to an Ark of the Covenant, which it half feels now to have
become a Phantasm. This is one of the balefulest sights. Souls are no
longer filled with their Fetish; but only pretend to be filled, and
would fain make themselves feel that they are filled. "You do not
believe," said Coleridge; "you only believe that you believe." It is the
final scene in all kinds of Worship and Symbolism; the sure symptom
that death is now nigh. It is equivalent to what we call Formulism, and
Worship of Formulas, in these days of ours. No more immoral act can be
done by a human creature; for it is the beginning of all immorality, or
rather it is the impossibility henceforth of any morality whatsoever:
the innermost moral soul is paralyzed thereby, cast into fatal magnetic
sleep! Men are no longer _sincere_ men. I do not wonder that the earnest
man denounces this, brands it, prosecutes it with inextinguishable
aversion. He and it, all good and it, are at death-feud. Blamable
Idolatry is _Cant_, and even what one may call Sincere-Cant.
Sincere-Cant: that is worth thinking of! Every sort of Worship ends with
this phasis.

I find Luther to have been a Breaker of Idols, no less than any other
Prophet. The wooden gods of the Koreish, made of timber and bees-wax,
were not more hateful to Mahomet than Tetzel's Pardons of Sin, made of
sheepskin and ink, were to Luther. It is the property of every Hero, in
every time, in every place and situation, that he come back to reality;
that he stand upon things, and not shows of things. According as he
loves, and venerates, articulately or with deep speechless thought, the
awful realities of things, so will the hollow shows of things, however
regular, decorous, accredited by Koreishes or Conclaves, be intolerable
and detestable to him. Protestantism, too, is the work of a Prophet:
the prophet-work of that sixteenth century. The first stroke of honest
demolition to an ancient thing grown false and idolatrous; preparatory
afar off to a new thing, which shall be true, and authentically divine!

At first view it might seem as if Protestantism were entirely
destructive to this that we call Hero-worship, and represent as the
basis of all possible good, religious or social, for mankind. One
often hears it said that Protestantism introduced a new era, radically
different from any the world had ever seen before: the era of "private
judgment," as they call it. By this revolt against the Pope, every man
became his own Pope; and learnt, among other things, that he must never
trust any Pope, or spiritual Hero-captain, any more! Whereby, is not
spiritual union, all hierarchy and subordination among men, henceforth
an impossibility? So we hear it said.--Now I need not deny that
Protestantism was a revolt against spiritual sovereignties, Popes and
much else. Nay I will grant that English Puritanism, revolt against
earthly sovereignties, was the second act of it; that the enormous
French Revolution itself was the third act, whereby all sovereignties
earthly and spiritual were, as might seem, abolished or made sure
of abolition. Protestantism is the grand root from which our whole
subsequent European History branches out. For the spiritual will always
body itself forth in the temporal history of men; the spiritual is the
beginning of the temporal. And now, sure enough, the cry is everywhere
for Liberty and Equality, Independence and so forth; instead of _Kings_,
Ballot-boxes and Electoral suffrages: it seems made out that any
Hero-sovereign, or loyal obedience of men to a man, in things temporal
or things spiritual, has passed away forever from the world. I should
despair of the world altogether, if so. One of my deepest convictions
is, that it is not so. Without sovereigns, true sovereigns, temporal
and spiritual, I see nothing possible but an anarchy; the hatefulest of
things. But I find Protestantism, whatever anarchic democracy it have
produced, to be the beginning of new genuine sovereignty and order.
I find it to be a revolt against _false_ sovereigns; the painful but
indispensable first preparative for _true_ sovereigns getting place
among us! This is worth explaining a little.

Let us remark, therefore, in the first place, that this of "private
judgment" is, at bottom, not a new thing in the world, but only new at
that epoch of the world. There is nothing generically new or peculiar in
the Reformation; it was a return to Truth and Reality in opposition
to Falsehood and Semblance, as all kinds of Improvement and genuine
Teaching are and have been. Liberty of private judgment, if we will
consider it, must at all times have existed in the world. Dante had not
put out his eyes, or tied shackles on himself; he was at home in
that Catholicism of his, a free-seeing soul in it,--if many a poor
Hogstraten, Tetzel, and Dr. Eck had now become slaves in it. Liberty of
judgment? No iron chain, or outward force of any kind, could ever
compel the soul of a man to believe or to disbelieve: it is his own
indefeasible light, that judgment of his; he will reign, and believe
there, by the grace of God alone! The sorriest sophistical Bellarmine,
preaching sightless faith and passive obedience, must first, by some
kind of _conviction_, have abdicated his right to be convinced. His
"private judgment" indicated that, as the advisablest step _he_ could
take. The right of private judgment will subsist, in full force,
wherever true men subsist. A true man _believes_ with his whole
judgment, with all the illumination and discernment that is in him, and
has always so believed. A false man, only struggling to "believe that
he believes," will naturally manage it in some other way. Protestantism
said to this latter, Woe! and to the former, Well done! At bottom, it
was no new saying; it was a return to all old sayings that ever had been
said. Be genuine, be sincere: that was, once more, the meaning of it.
Mahomet believed with his whole mind; Odin with his whole mind,--he, and
all _true_ Followers of Odinism. They, by their private judgment, had
"judged "--_so_.

And now I venture to assert, that the exercise of private judgment,
faithfully gone about, does by no means necessarily end in selfish
independence, isolation; but rather ends necessarily in the opposite
of that. It is not honest inquiry that makes anarchy; but it is error,
insincerity, half-belief and untruth that make it. A man protesting
against error is on the way towards uniting himself with all men that
believe in truth. There is no communion possible among men who believe
only in hearsays. The heart of each is lying dead; has no power of
sympathy even with _things_,--or he would believe _them_ and not
hearsays. No sympathy even with things; how much less with his
fellow-men! He cannot unite with men; he is an anarchic man. Only in a
world of sincere men is unity possible;--and there, in the long-run, it
is as good as _certain_.

For observe one thing, a thing too often left out of view, or rather
altogether lost sight of in this controversy: That it is not necessary a
man should himself have _discovered_ the truth he is to believe in, and
never so _sincerely_ to believe in. A Great Man, we said, was always
sincere, as the first condition of him. But a man need not be great in
order to be sincere; that is not the necessity of Nature and all Time,
but only of certain corrupt unfortunate epochs of Time. A man can
believe, and make his own, in the most genuine way, what he has received
from another;--and with boundless gratitude to that other! The merit of
_originality_ is not novelty; it is sincerity. The believing man is the
original man; whatsoever he believes, he believes it for himself, not
for another. Every son of Adam can become a sincere man, an original
man, in this sense; no mortal is doomed to be an insincere man. Whole
ages, what we call ages of Faith, are original; all men in them, or the
most of men in them, sincere. These are the great and fruitful ages:
every worker, in all spheres, is a worker not on semblance but on
substance; every work issues in a result: the general sum of such work
is great; for all of it, as genuine, tends towards one goal; all of
it is _additive_, none of it subtractive. There is true union, true
kingship, loyalty, all true and blessed things, so far as the poor Earth
can produce blessedness for men.

Hero-worship? Ah me, that a man be self-subsistent, original, true, or
what we call it, is surely the farthest in the world from indisposing
him to reverence and believe other men's truth! It only disposes,
necessitates and invincibly compels him to disbelieve other men's dead
formulas, hearsays and untruths. A man embraces truth with his eyes
open, and because his eyes are open: does he need to shut them before he
can love his Teacher of truth? He alone can love, with a right gratitude
and genuine loyalty of soul, the Hero-Teacher who has delivered him
out of darkness into light. Is not such a one a true Hero and
Serpent-queller; worthy of all reverence! The black monster, Falsehood,
our one enemy in this world, lies prostrate by his valor; it was he that
conquered the world for us!--See, accordingly, was not Luther himself
reverenced as a true Pope, or Spiritual Father, _being_ verily such?
Napoleon, from amid boundless revolt of Sansculottism, became a King.
Hero-worship never dies, nor can die. Loyalty and Sovereignty are
everlasting in the world:--and there is this in them, that they
are grounded not on garnitures and semblances, but on realities and
sincerities. Not by shutting your eyes, your "private judgment;" no, but
by opening them, and by having something to see! Luther's message was
deposition and abolition to all false Popes and Potentates, but life and
strength, though afar off, to new genuine ones.

All this of Liberty and Equality, Electoral suffrages, Independence and
so forth, we will take, therefore, to be a temporary phenomenon, by no
means a final one. Though likely to last a long time, with sad enough
embroilments for us all, we must welcome it, as the penalty of sins that
are past, the pledge of inestimable benefits that are coming. In all
ways, it behooved men to quit simulacra and return to fact; cost what it
might, that did behoove to be done. With spurious Popes, and Believers
having no private judgment,--quacks pretending to command over
dupes,--what can you do? Misery and mischief only. You cannot make an
association out of insincere men; you cannot build an edifice except
by plummet and level,--at right-angles to one another! In all this wild
revolutionary work, from Protestantism downwards, I see the blessedest
result preparing itself: not abolition of Hero-worship, but rather what
I would call a whole World of Heroes. If Hero mean _sincere man_, why
may not every one of us be a Hero? A world all sincere, a believing
world: the like has been; the like will again be,--cannot help being.
That were the right sort of Worshippers for Heroes: never could the
truly Better be so reverenced as where all were True and Good!--But we
must hasten to Luther and his Life.

Luther's birthplace was Eisleben in Saxony; he came into the world there
on the 10th of November, 1483. It was an accident that gave this honor
to Eisleben. His parents, poor mine-laborers in a village of that
region, named Mohra, had gone to the Eisleben Winter-Fair: in the tumult
of this scene the Frau Luther was taken with travail, found refuge in
some poor house there, and the boy she bore was named MARTIN LUTHER.
Strange enough to reflect upon it. This poor Frau Luther, she had gone
with her husband to make her small merchandisings; perhaps to sell the
lock of yarn she had been spinning, to buy the small winter-necessaries
for her narrow hut or household; in the whole world, that day, there was
not a more entirely unimportant-looking pair of people than this Miner
and his Wife. And yet what were all Emperors, Popes and Potentates, in
comparison? There was born here, once more, a Mighty Man; whose light
was to flame as the beacon over long centuries and epochs of the world;
the whole world and its history was waiting for this man. It is strange,
it is great. It leads us back to another Birth-hour, in a still meaner
environment, Eighteen Hundred years ago,--of which it is fit that we
_say_ nothing, that we think only in silence; for what words are there!
The Age of Miracles past? The Age of Miracles is forever here--!

I find it altogether suitable to Luther's function in this Earth, and
doubtless wisely ordered to that end by the Providence presiding over
him and us and all things, that he was born poor, and brought up poor,
one of the poorest of men. He had to beg, as the school-children
in those times did; singing for alms and bread, from door to door.
Hardship, rigorous Necessity was the poor boy's companion; no man nor no
thing would put on a false face to flatter Martin Luther. Among things,
not among the shows of things, had he to grow. A boy of rude figure, yet
with weak health, with his large greedy soul, full of all faculty and
sensibility, he suffered greatly. But it was his task to get acquainted
with _realities_, and keep acquainted with them, at whatever cost: his
task was to bring the whole world back to reality, for it had dwelt too
long with semblance! A youth nursed up in wintry whirlwinds, in desolate
darkness and difficulty, that he may step forth at last from his stormy
Scandinavia, strong as a true man, as a god: a Christian Odin,--a right
Thor once more, with his thunder-hammer, to smite asunder ugly enough
_Jotuns_ and Giant-monsters!

Perhaps the turning incident of his life, we may fancy, was that death
of his friend Alexis, by lightning, at the gate of Erfurt. Luther had
struggled up through boyhood, better and worse; displaying, in spite
of all hindrances, the largest intellect, eager to learn: his father
judging doubtless that he might promote himself in the world, set him
upon the study of Law. This was the path to rise; Luther, with little
will in it either way, had consented: he was now nineteen years of age.
Alexis and he had been to see the old Luther people at Mansfeldt; were
got back again near Erfurt, when a thunder-storm came on; the bolt
struck Alexis, he fell dead at Luther's feet. What is this Life
of ours?--gone in a moment, burnt up like a scroll, into the blank
Eternity! What are all earthly preferments, Chancellorships, Kingships?
They lie shrunk together--there! The Earth has opened on them; in a
moment they are not, and Eternity is. Luther, struck to the heart,
determined to devote himself to God and God's service alone. In spite
of all dissuasions from his father and others, he became a Monk in the
Augustine Convent at Erfurt.

This was probably the first light-point in the history of Luther, his
purer will now first decisively uttering itself; but, for the present,
it was still as one light-point in an element all of darkness. He says
he was a pious monk, _ich bin ein frommer Monch gewesen_; faithfully,
painfully struggling to work out the truth of this high act of his; but
it was to little purpose. His misery had not lessened; had rather, as it
were, increased into infinitude. The drudgeries he had to do, as novice
in his Convent, all sorts of slave-work, were not his grievance:
the deep earnest soul of the man had fallen into all manner of black
scruples, dubitations; he believed himself likely to die soon, and far
worse than die. One hears with a new interest for poor Luther that, at
this time, he lived in terror of the unspeakable misery; fancied that he
was doomed to eternal reprobation. Was it not the humble sincere nature
of the man? What was he, that he should be raised to Heaven! He that
had known only misery, and mean slavery: the news was too blessed to
be credible. It could not become clear to him how, by fasts, vigils,
formalities and mass-work, a man's soul could be saved. He fell into
the blackest wretchedness; had to wander staggering as on the verge of
bottomless Despair.

It must have been a most blessed discovery, that of an old Latin Bible
which he found in the Erfurt Library about this time. He had never seen
the Book before. It taught him another lesson than that of fasts and
vigils. A brother monk too, of pious experience, was helpful. Luther
learned now that a man was saved not by singing masses, but by the
infinite grace of God: a more credible hypothesis. He gradually got
himself founded, as on the rock. No wonder he should venerate the Bible,
which had brought this blessed help to him. He prized it as the Word of
the Highest must be prized by such a man. He determined to hold by that;
as through life and to death he firmly did.

This, then, is his deliverance from darkness, his final triumph over
darkness, what we call his conversion; for himself the most important of
all epochs. That he should now grow daily in peace and clearness; that,
unfolding now the great talents and virtues implanted in him, he should
rise to importance in his Convent, in his country, and be found more and
more useful in all honest business of life, is a natural result. He was
sent on missions by his Augustine Order, as a man of talent and fidelity
fit to do their business well: the Elector of Saxony, Friedrich, named
the Wise, a truly wise and just prince, had cast his eye on him as a
valuable person; made him Professor in his new University of Wittenberg,
Preacher too at Wittenberg; in both which capacities, as in all duties
he did, this Luther, in the peaceable sphere of common life, was gaining
more and more esteem with all good men.

It was in his twenty-seventh year that he first saw Rome; being sent
thither, as I said, on mission from his Convent. Pope Julius the Second,
and what was going on at Rome, must have filled the mind of Luther
with amazement. He had come as to the Sacred City, throne of God's
High-priest on Earth; and he found it--what we know! Many thoughts it
must have given the man; many which we have no record of, which perhaps
he did not himself know how to utter. This Rome, this scene of false
priests, clothed not in the beauty of holiness, but in far other
vesture, is _false_: but what is it to Luther? A mean man he, how shall
he reform a world? That was far from his thoughts. A humble, solitary
man, why should he at all meddle with the world? It was the task of
quite higher men than he. His business was to guide his own footsteps
wisely through the world. Let him do his own obscure duty in it well;
the rest, horrible and dismal as it looks, is in God's hand, not in his.

It is curious to reflect what might have been the issue, had Roman
Popery happened to pass this Luther by; to go on in its great wasteful
orbit, and not come athwart his little path, and force him to assault
it! Conceivable enough that, in this case, he might have held his peace
about the abuses of Rome; left Providence, and God on high, to deal with
them! A modest quiet man; not prompt he to attack irreverently persons
in authority. His clear task, as I say, was to do his own duty; to
walk wisely in this world of confused wickedness, and save his own soul
alive. But the Roman High-priesthood did come athwart him: afar off
at Wittenberg he, Luther, could not get lived in honesty for it; he
remonstrated, resisted, came to extremity; was struck at, struck again,
and so it came to wager of battle between them! This is worth attending
to in Luther's history. Perhaps no man of so humble, peaceable a
disposition ever filled the world with contention. We cannot but see
that he would have loved privacy, quiet diligence in the shade; that it
was against his will he ever became a notoriety. Notoriety: what would
that do for him? The goal of his march through this world was the
Infinite Heaven; an indubitable goal for him: in a few years, he should
either have attained that, or lost it forever! We will say nothing at
all, I think, of that sorrowfulest of theories, of its being some mean
shopkeeper grudge, of the Augustine Monk against the Dominican,
that first kindled the wrath of Luther, and produced the Protestant
Reformation. We will say to the people who maintain it, if indeed any
such exist now: Get first into the sphere of thought by which it is
so much as possible to judge of Luther, or of any man like Luther,
otherwise than distractedly; we may then begin arguing with you.

The Monk Tetzel, sent out carelessly in the way of trade, by Leo
Tenth,--who merely wanted to raise a little money, and for the rest
seems to have been a Pagan rather than a Christian, so far as he was
anything,--arrived at Wittenberg, and drove his scandalous trade there.
Luther's flock bought Indulgences; in the confessional of his Church,
people pleaded to him that they had already got their sins pardoned.
Luther, if he would not be found wanting at his own post, a false
sluggard and coward at the very centre of the little space of ground
that was his own and no other man's, had to step forth against
Indulgences, and declare aloud that _they_ were a futility and sorrowful
mockery, that no man's sins could be pardoned by _them_. It was the
beginning of the whole Reformation. We know how it went; forward from
this first public challenge of Tetzel, on the last day of October, 1517,
through remonstrance and argument;--spreading ever wider, rising ever
higher; till it became unquenchable, and enveloped all the world.
Luther's heart's desire was to have this grief and other griefs amended;
his thought was still far other than that of introducing separation in
the Church, or revolting against the Pope, Father of Christendom.--The
elegant Pagan Pope cared little about this Monk and his doctrines;
wished, however, to have done with the noise of him: in a space of some
three years, having tried various softer methods, he thought good to end
it by _fire_. He dooms the Monk's writings to be burnt by the hangman,
and his body to be sent bound to Rome,--probably for a similar purpose.
It was the way they had ended with Huss, with Jerome, the century
before. A short argument, fire. Poor Huss: he came to that Constance
Council, with all imaginable promises and safe-conducts; an earnest,
not rebellious kind of man: they laid him instantly in a stone dungeon
"three feet wide, six feet high, seven feet long;" _burnt_ the true
voice of him out of this world; choked it in smoke and fire. That was
_not_ well done!

I, for one, pardon Luther for now altogether revolting against the Pope.
The elegant Pagan, by this fire-decree of his, had kindled into noble
just wrath the bravest heart then living in this world. The bravest, if
also one of the humblest, peaceablest; it was now kindled. These words
of mine, words of truth and soberness, aiming faithfully, as human
inability would allow, to promote God's truth on Earth, and save men's
souls, you, God's vicegerent on earth, answer them by the hangman and
fire? You will burn me and them, for answer to the God's-message they
strove to bring you? You are not God's vicegerent; you are another's
than his, I think! I take your Bull, as an emparchmented Lie, and burn
_it_. _You_ will do what you see good next: this is what I do.--It was
on the 10th of December, 1520, three years after the beginning of the
business, that Luther, "with a great concourse of people," took this
indignant step of burning the Pope's fire-decree "at the Elster-Gate of
Wittenberg." Wittenberg looked on "with shoutings;" the whole world was
looking on. The Pope should not have provoked that "shout"! It was
the shout of the awakening of nations. The quiet German heart, modest,
patient of much, had at length got more than it could bear. Formulism,
Pagan Popeism, and other Falsehood and corrupt Semblance had ruled long
enough: and here once more was a man found who durst tell all men that
God's-world stood not on semblances but on realities; that Life was a
truth, and not a lie!

At bottom, as was said above, we are to consider Luther as a Prophet
Idol-breaker; a bringer-back of men to reality. It is the function of
great men and teachers. Mahomet said, These idols of yours are wood; you
put wax and oil on them, the flies stick on them: they are not God, I
tell you, they are black wood! Luther said to the Pope, This thing of
yours that you call a Pardon of Sins, it is a bit of rag-paper with ink.
It is nothing else; it, and so much like it, is nothing else. God alone
can pardon sins. Popeship, spiritual Fatherhood of God's Church, is that
a vain semblance, of cloth and parchment? It is an awful fact. God's
Church is not a semblance, Heaven and Hell are not semblances. I stand
on this, since you drive me to it. Standing on this, I a poor German
Monk am stronger than you all. I stand solitary, friendless, but on
God's Truth; you with your tiaras, triple-hats, with your treasuries and
armories, thunders spiritual and temporal, stand on the Devil's Lie, and
are not so strong--!

The Diet of Worms, Luther's appearance there on the 17th of April, 1521,
may be considered as the greatest scene in Modern European History; the
point, indeed, from which the whole subsequent history of civilization
takes its rise. After multiplied negotiations, disputations, it had
come to this. The young Emperor Charles Fifth, with all the Princes
of Germany, Papal nuncios, dignitaries spiritual and temporal, are
assembled there: Luther is to appear and answer for himself, whether he
will recant or not. The world's pomp and power sits there on this
hand: on that, stands up for God's Truth, one man, the poor miner Hans
Luther's Son. Friends had reminded him of Huss, advised him not to go;
he would not be advised. A large company of friends rode out to meet
him, with still more earnest warnings; he answered, "Were there as many
Devils in Worms as there are roof-tiles, I would on." The people, on
the morrow, as he went to the Hall of the Diet, crowded the windows and
house-tops, some of them calling out to him, in solemn words, not to
recant: "Whosoever denieth me before men!" they cried to him,--as in
a kind of solemn petition and adjuration. Was it not in reality our
petition too, the petition of the whole world, lying in dark bondage
of soul, paralyzed under a black spectral Nightmare and triple-hatted
Chimera, calling itself Father in God, and what not: "Free us; it rests
with thee; desert us not!"

Luther did not desert us. His speech, of two hours, distinguished itself
by its respectful, wise and honest tone; submissive to whatsoever could
lawfully claim submission, not submissive to any more than that. His
writings, he said, were partly his own, partly derived from the Word of
God. As to what was his own, human infirmity entered into it; unguarded
anger, blindness, many things doubtless which it were a blessing for him
could he abolish altogether. But as to what stood on sound truth and
the Word of God, he could not recant it. How could he? "Confute me," he
concluded, "by proofs of Scripture, or else by plain just arguments: I
cannot recant otherwise. For it is neither safe nor prudent to do aught
against conscience. Here stand I; I can do no other: God assist me!"--It
is, as we say, the greatest moment in the Modern History of Men. English
Puritanism, England and its Parliaments, Americas, and vast work these
two centuries; French Revolution, Europe and its work everywhere at
present: the germ of it all lay there: had Luther in that moment done
other, it had all been otherwise! The European World was asking him:
Am I to sink ever lower into falsehood, stagnant putrescence, loathsome
accursed death; or, with whatever paroxysm, to cast the falsehoods out
of me, and be cured and live?--

Great wars, contentions and disunion followed out of this Reformation;
which last down to our day, and are yet far from ended. Great talk and
crimination has been made about these. They are lamentable, undeniable;
but after all, what has Luther or his cause to do with them? It seems
strange reasoning to charge the Reformation with all this. When Hercules
turned the purifying river into King Augeas's stables, I have no doubt
the confusion that resulted was considerable all around: but I think
it was not Hercules's blame; it was some other's blame! The Reformation
might bring what results it liked when it came, but the Reformation
simply could not help coming. To all Popes and Popes' advocates,
expostulating, lamenting and accusing, the answer of the world is: Once
for all, your Popehood has become untrue. No matter how good it was, how
good you say it is, we cannot believe it; the light of our whole mind,
given us to walk by from Heaven above, finds it henceforth a thing
unbelievable. We will not believe it, we will not try to believe it,--we
dare not! The thing is _untrue_; we were traitors against the Giver
of all Truth, if we durst pretend to think it true. Away with it; let
whatsoever likes come in the place of it: with _it_ we can have no
farther trade!--Luther and his Protestantism is not responsible
for wars; the false Simulacra that forced him to protest, they are
responsible. Luther did what every man that God has made has not only
the right, but lies under the sacred duty, to do: answered a Falsehood
when it questioned him, Dost thou believe me?--No!--At what cost soever,
without counting of costs, this thing behooved to be done. Union,
organization spiritual and material, a far nobler than any Popedom or
Feudalism in their truest days, I never doubt, is coming for the world;
sure to come. But on Fact alone, not on Semblance and Simulacrum, will
it be able either to come, or to stand when come. With union grounded
on falsehood, and ordering us to speak and act lies, we will not have
anything to do. Peace? A brutal lethargy is peaceable, the noisome grave
is peaceable. We hope for a living peace, not a dead one!

And yet, in prizing justly the indispensable blessings of the New, let
us not be unjust to the Old. The Old was true, if it no longer is. In
Dante's days it needed no sophistry, self-blinding or other dishonesty,
to get itself reckoned true. It was good then; nay there is in the soul
of it a deathless good. The cry of "No Popery" is foolish enough in
these days. The speculation that Popery is on the increase, building new
chapels and so forth, may pass for one of the idlest ever started. Very
curious: to count up a few Popish chapels, listen to a few Protestant
logic-choppings,--to much dull-droning drowsy inanity that still calls
itself Protestant, and say: See, Protestantism is _dead_; Popeism is
more alive than it, will be alive after it!--Drowsy inanities, not a
few, that call themselves Protestant are dead; but _Protestantism_ has
not died yet, that I hear of! Protestantism, if we will look, has in
these days produced its Goethe, its Napoleon; German Literature and the
French Revolution; rather considerable signs of life! Nay, at bottom,
what else is alive _but_ Protestantism? The life of most else that one
meets is a galvanic one merely,--not a pleasant, not a lasting sort of

Popery can build new chapels; welcome to do so, to all lengths. Popery
cannot come back, any more than Paganism can,--_which_ also still
lingers in some countries. But, indeed, it is with these things, as with
the ebbing of the sea: you look at the waves oscillating hither, thither
on the beach; for _minutes_ you cannot tell how it is going; look in
half an hour where it is,--look in half a century where your Popehood
is! Alas, would there were no greater danger to our Europe than the poor
old Pope's revival! Thor may as soon try to revive.--And withal this
oscillation has a meaning. The poor old Popehood will not die away
entirely, as Thor has done, for some time yet; nor ought it. We may say,
the Old never dies till this happen, Till all the soul of good that was
in it have got itself transfused into the practical New. While a good
work remains capable of being done by the Romish form; or, what is
inclusive of all, while a pious _life_ remains capable of being led
by it, just so long, if we consider, will this or the other human soul
adopt it, go about as a living witness of it. So long it will obtrude
itself on the eye of us who reject it, till we in our practice too have
appropriated whatsoever of truth was in it. Then, but also not till
then, it will have no charm more for any man. It lasts here for a
purpose. Let it last as long as it can.--

Of Luther I will add now, in reference to all these wars and bloodshed,
the noticeable fact that none of them began so long as he continued
living. The controversy did not get to fighting so long as he was there.
To me it is proof of his greatness in all senses, this fact. How seldom
do we find a man that has stirred up some vast commotion, who does
not himself perish, swept away in it! Such is the usual course of
revolutionists. Luther continued, in a good degree, sovereign of this
greatest revolution; all Protestants, of what rank or function soever,
looking much to him for guidance: and he held it peaceable, continued
firm at the centre of it. A man to do this must have a kingly faculty:
he must have the gift to discern at all turns where the true heart of
the matter lies, and to plant himself courageously on that, as a strong
true man, that other true men may rally round him there. He will not
continue leader of men otherwise. Luther's clear deep force of judgment,
his force of all sorts, of _silence_, of tolerance and moderation, among
others, are very notable in these circumstances.

Tolerance, I say; a very genuine kind of tolerance: he distinguishes
what is essential, and what is not; the unessential may go very much as
it will. A complaint comes to him that such and such a Reformed Preacher
"will not preach without a cassock." Well, answers Luther, what harm
will a cassock do the man? "Let him have a cassock to preach in; let
him have three cassocks if he find benefit in them!" His conduct in the
matter of Karlstadt's wild image-breaking; of the Anabaptists; of the
Peasants' War, shows a noble strength, very different from spasmodic
violence. With sure prompt insight he discriminates what is what: a
strong just man, he speaks forth what is the wise course, and all men
follow him in that. Luther's Written Works give similar testimony of
him. The dialect of these speculations is now grown obsolete for us;
but one still reads them with a singular attraction. And indeed the mere
grammatical diction is still legible enough; Luther's merit in literary
history is of the greatest: his dialect became the language of all
writing. They are not well written, these Four-and-twenty Quartos of
his; written hastily, with quite other than literary objects. But in no
Books have I found a more robust, genuine, I will say noble faculty of
a man than in these. A rugged honesty, homeliness, simplicity; a rugged
sterling sense and strength. He dashes out illumination from him; his
smiting idiomatic phrases seem to cleave into the very secret of the
matter. Good humor too, nay tender affection, nobleness and depth: this
man could have been a Poet too! He had to _work_ an Epic Poem, not
write one. I call him a great Thinker; as indeed his greatness of heart
already betokens that.

Richter says of Luther's words, "His words are half-battles." They may
be called so. The essential quality of him was, that he could fight and
conquer; that he was a right piece of human Valor. No more valiant man,
no mortal heart to be called _braver_, that one has record of, ever
lived in that Teutonic Kindred, whose character is valor. His defiance
of the "Devils" in Worms was not a mere boast, as the like might be if
now spoken. It was a faith of Luther's that there were Devils, spiritual
denizens of the Pit, continually besetting men. Many times, in his
writings, this turns up; and a most small sneer has been grounded on it
by some. In the room of the Wartburg where he sat translating the Bible,
they still show you a black spot on the wall; the strange memorial of
one of these conflicts. Luther sat translating one of the Psalms; he was
worn down with long labor, with sickness, abstinence from food: there
rose before him some hideous indefinable Image, which he took for the
Evil One, to forbid his work: Luther started up, with fiend-defiance;
flung his inkstand at the spectre, and it disappeared! The spot still
remains there; a curious monument of several things. Any apothecary's
apprentice can now tell us what we are to think of this apparition, in
a scientific sense: but the man's heart that dare rise defiant, face to
face, against Hell itself, can give no higher proof of fearlessness.
The thing he will quail before exists not on this Earth or under
it.--Fearless enough! "The Devil is aware," writes he on one occasion,
"that this does not proceed out of fear in me. I have seen and defied
innumerable Devils. Duke George," of Leipzig, a great enemy of his,
"Duke George is not equal to one Devil,"--far short of a Devil! "If I
had business at Leipzig, I would ride into Leipzig, though it rained
Duke Georges for nine days running." What a reservoir of Dukes to ride

At the same time, they err greatly who imagine that this man's courage
was ferocity, mere coarse disobedient obstinacy and savagery, as many
do. Far from that. There may be an absence of fear which arises from the
absence of thought or affection, from the presence of hatred and stupid
fury. We do not value the courage of the tiger highly! With Luther it
was far otherwise; no accusation could be more unjust than this of mere
ferocious violence brought against him. A most gentle heart withal, full
of pity and love, as indeed the truly valiant heart ever is. The tiger
before a _stronger_ foe--flies: the tiger is not what we call valiant,
only fierce and cruel. I know few things more touching than those soft
breathings of affection, soft as a child's or a mother's, in this great
wild heart of Luther. So honest, unadulterated with any cant; homely,
rude in their utterance; pure as water welling from the rock. What, in
fact, was all that down-pressed mood of despair and reprobation,
which we saw in his youth, but the outcome of pre-eminent thoughtful
gentleness, affections too keen and fine? It is the course such men as
the poor Poet Cowper fall into. Luther to a slight observer might have
seemed a timid, weak man; modesty, affectionate shrinking tenderness the
chief distinction of him. It is a noble valor which is roused in a heart
like this, once stirred up into defiance, all kindled into a heavenly

In Luther's _Table-Talk_, a posthumous Book of anecdotes and sayings
collected by his friends, the most interesting now of all the Books
proceeding from him, we have many beautiful unconscious displays of the
man, and what sort of nature he had. His behavior at the death-bed of
his little Daughter, so still, so great and loving, is among the most
affecting things. He is resigned that his little Magdalene should die,
yet longs inexpressibly that she might live;--follows, in awe-struck
thought, the flight of her little soul through those unknown realms.
Awe-struck; most heartfelt, we can see; and sincere,--for after all
dogmatic creeds and articles, he feels what nothing it is that we know,
or can know: His little Magdalene shall be with God, as God wills; for
Luther too that is all; _Islam_ is all.

Once, he looks out from his solitary Patmos, the Castle of Coburg, in
the middle of the night: The great vault of Immensity, long flights of
clouds sailing through it,--dumb, gaunt, huge:--who supports all that?
"None ever saw the pillars of it; yet it is supported." God supports it.
We must know that God is great, that God is good; and trust, where
we cannot see.--Returning home from Leipzig once, he is struck by the
beauty of the harvest-fields: How it stands, that golden yellow corn,
on its fair taper stem, its golden head bent, all rich and waving
there,--the meek Earth, at God's kind bidding, has produced it once
again; the bread of man!--In the garden at Wittenberg one evening at
sunset, a little bird has perched for the night: That little bird, says
Luther, above it are the stars and deep Heaven of worlds; yet it has
folded its little wings; gone trustfully to rest there as in its home:
the Maker of it has given it too a home!--Neither are mirthful turns
wanting: there is a great free human heart in this man. The common
speech of him has a rugged nobleness, idiomatic, expressive, genuine;
gleams here and there with beautiful poetic tints. One feels him to be
a great brother man. His love of Music, indeed, is not this, as it were,
the summary of all these affections in him? Many a wild unutterability
he spoke forth from him in the tones of his flute. The Devils fled from
his flute, he says. Death-defiance on the one hand, and such love of
music on the other; I could call these the two opposite poles of a great
soul; between these two all great things had room.

Luther's face is to me expressive of him; in Kranach's best portraits
I find the true Luther. A rude plebeian face; with its huge crag-like
brows and bones, the emblem of rugged energy; at first, almost a
repulsive face. Yet in the eyes especially there is a wild silent
sorrow; an unnamable melancholy, the element of all gentle and fine
affections; giving to the rest the true stamp of nobleness. Laughter was
in this Luther, as we said; but tears also were there. Tears also were
appointed him; tears and hard toil. The basis of his life was Sadness,
Earnestness. In his latter days, after all triumphs and victories, he
expresses himself heartily weary of living; he considers that God alone
can and will regulate the course things are taking, and that perhaps the
Day of Judgment is not far. As for him, he longs for one thing: that
God would release him from his labor, and let him depart and be at rest.
They understand little of the man who cite this in discredit of him!--I
will call this Luther a true Great Man; great in intellect, in courage,
affection and integrity; one of our most lovable and precious men.
Great, not as a hewn obelisk; but as an Alpine mountain,--so simple,
honest, spontaneous, not setting up to be great at all; there for quite
another purpose than being great! Ah yes, unsubduable granite, piercing
far and wide into the Heavens; yet in the clefts of it fountains, green
beautiful valleys with flowers! A right Spiritual Hero and Prophet; once
more, a true Son of Nature and Fact, for whom these centuries, and many
that are to come yet, will be thankful to Heaven.

The most interesting phasis which the Reformation anywhere assumes,
especially for us English, is that of Puritanism. In Luther's own
country Protestantism soon dwindled into a rather barren affair: not a
religion or faith, but rather now a theological jangling of argument,
the proper seat of it not the heart; the essence of it sceptical
contention: which indeed has jangled more and more, down to
Voltaireism itself,--through Gustavus-Adolphus contentions onwards to
French-Revolution ones! But in our Island there arose a Puritanism,
which even got itself established as a Presbyterianism and National
Church among the Scotch; which came forth as a real business of the
heart; and has produced in the world very notable fruit. In some senses,
one may say it is the only phasis of Protestantism that ever got to the
rank of being a Faith, a true heart-communication with Heaven, and of
exhibiting itself in History as such. We must spare a few words for
Knox; himself a brave and remarkable man; but still more important as
Chief Priest and Founder, which one may consider him to be, of the Faith
that became Scotland's, New England's, Oliver Cromwell's. History will
have something to say about this, for some time to come!

We may censure Puritanism as we please; and no one of us, I suppose,
but would find it a very rough defective thing. But we, and all men, may
understand that it was a genuine thing; for Nature has adopted it,
and it has grown, and grows. I say sometimes, that all goes by
wager-of-battle in this world; that _strength_, well understood, is
the measure of all worth. Give a thing time; if it can succeed, it is a
right thing. Look now at American Saxondom; and at that little Fact of
the sailing of the Mayflower, two hundred years ago, from Delft Haven in
Holland! Were we of open sense as the Greeks were, we had found a Poem
here; one of Nature's own Poems, such as she writes in broad facts over
great continents. For it was properly the beginning of America: there
were straggling settlers in America before, some material as of a body
was there; but the soul of it was first this. These poor men, driven
out of their own country, not able well to live in Holland, determine
on settling in the New World. Black untamed forests are there, and wild
savage creatures; but not so cruel as Star-chamber hangmen. They
thought the Earth would yield them food, if they tilled honestly; the
everlasting heaven would stretch, there too, overhead; they should be
left in peace, to prepare for Eternity by living well in this world of
Time; worshipping in what they thought the true, not the idolatrous way.
They clubbed their small means together; hired a ship, the little ship
Mayflower, and made ready to set sail.

In Neal's _History of the Puritans_ [Neal (London, 1755), i. 490] is an
account of the ceremony of their departure: solemnity, we might call it
rather, for it was a real act of worship. Their minister went down with
them to the beach, and their brethren whom they were to leave behind;
all joined in solemn prayer, That God would have pity on His poor
children, and go with them into that waste wilderness, for He also had
made that, He was there also as well as here.--Hah! These men, I think,
had a work! The weak thing, weaker than a child, becomes strong one day,
if it be a true thing. Puritanism was only despicable, laughable then;
but nobody can manage to laugh at it now. Puritanism has got weapons and
sinews; it has firearms, war-navies; it has cunning in its ten fingers,
strength in its right arm; it can steer ships, fell forests, remove
mountains;--it is one of the strongest things under this sun at present!

In the history of Scotland, too, I can find properly but one epoch:
we may say, it contains nothing of world-interest at all but this
Reformation by Knox. A poor barren country, full of continual broils,
dissensions, massacrings; a people in the last state of rudeness and
destitution; little better perhaps than Ireland at this day. Hungry
fierce barons, not so much as able to form any arrangement with each
other _how to divide_ what they fleeced from these poor drudges; but
obliged, as the Colombian Republics are at this day, to make of every
alteration a revolution; no way of changing a ministry but by hanging
the old ministers on gibbets: this is a historical spectacle of no very
singular significance! "Bravery" enough, I doubt not; fierce fighting in
abundance: but not braver or fiercer than that of their old Scandinavian
Sea-king ancestors; _whose_ exploits we have not found worth dwelling
on! It is a country as yet without a soul: nothing developed in it but
what is rude, external, semi-animal. And now at the Reformation, the
internal life is kindled, as it were, under the ribs of this outward
material death. A cause, the noblest of causes kindles itself, like a
beacon set on high; high as Heaven, yet attainable from Earth;--whereby
the meanest man becomes not a Citizen only, but a Member of Christ's
visible Church; a veritable Hero, if he prove a true man!

Well; this is what I mean by a whole "nation of heroes;" a _believing_
nation. There needs not a great soul to make a hero; there needs a
god-created soul which will be true to its origin; that will be a great
soul! The like has been seen, we find. The like will be again seen,
under wider forms than the Presbyterian: there can be no lasting good
done till then.--Impossible! say some. Possible? Has it not _been_, in
this world, as a practiced fact? Did Hero-worship fail in Knox's case?
Or are we made of other clay now? Did the Westminster Confession of
Faith add some new property to the soul of man? God made the soul
of man. He did not doom any soul of man to live as a Hypothesis and
Hearsay, in a world filled with such, and with the fatal work and fruit
of such--!

But to return: This that Knox did for his Nation, I say, we may really
call a resurrection as from death. It was not a smooth business; but it
was welcome surely, and cheap at that price, had it been far rougher. On
the whole, cheap at any price!--as life is. The people began to _live_:
they needed first of all to do that, at what cost and costs soever.
Scotch Literature and Thought, Scotch Industry; James Watt, David Hume,
Walter Scott, Robert Burns: I find Knox and the Reformation acting in
the heart's core of every one of these persons and phenomena; I find
that without the Reformation they would not have been. Or what of
Scotland? The Puritanism of Scotland became that of England, of
New England. A tumult in the High Church of Edinburgh spread into a
universal battle and struggle over all these realms;--there came
out, after fifty years' struggling, what we all call the "_Glorious_
Revolution" a _Habeas Corpus_ Act, Free Parliaments, and much
else!--Alas, is it not too true what we said, That many men in the van
do always, like Russian soldiers, march into the ditch of Schweidnitz,
and fill it up with their dead bodies, that the rear may pass over them
dry-shod, and gain the honor? How many earnest rugged Cromwells, Knoxes,
poor Peasant Covenanters, wrestling, battling for very life, in rough
miry places, have to struggle, and suffer, and fall, greatly censured,
_bemired_,--before a beautiful Revolution of Eighty-eight can step
over them in official pumps and silk-stockings, with universal

It seems to me hard measure that this Scottish man, now after three
hundred years, should have to plead like a culprit before the world;
intrinsically for having been, in such way as it was then possible to
be, the bravest of all Scotchmen! Had he been a poor Half-and-half, he
could have crouched into the corner, like so many others; Scotland
had not been delivered; and Knox had been without blame. He is the one
Scotchman to whom, of all others, his country and the world owe a debt.
He has to plead that Scotland would forgive him for having been worth to
it any million "unblamable" Scotchmen that need no forgiveness! He bared
his breast to the battle; had to row in French galleys, wander forlorn
in exile, in clouds and storms; was censured, shot at through his
windows; had a right sore fighting life: if this world were his place of
recompense, he had made but a bad venture of it. I cannot apologize for
Knox. To him it is very indifferent, these two hundred and fifty years
or more, what men say of him. But we, having got above all those details
of his battle, and living now in clearness on the fruits of his victory,
we, for our own sake, ought to look through the rumors and controversies
enveloping the man, into the man himself.

For one thing, I will remark that this post of Prophet to his Nation was
not of his seeking; Knox had lived forty years quietly obscure, before
he became conspicuous. He was the son of poor parents; had got a college
education; become a Priest; adopted the Reformation, and seemed well
content to guide his own steps by the light of it, nowise unduly
intruding it on others. He had lived as Tutor in gentlemen's families;
preaching when any body of persons wished to hear his doctrine: resolute
he to walk by the truth, and speak the truth when called to do it;
not ambitious of more; not fancying himself capable of more. In this
entirely obscure way he had reached the age of forty; was with the small
body of Reformers who were standing siege in St. Andrew's Castle,--when
one day in their chapel, the Preacher after finishing his exhortation to
these fighters in the forlorn hope, said suddenly, That there ought to
be other speakers, that all men who had a priest's heart and gift in
them ought now to speak;--which gifts and heart one of their own number,
John Knox the name of him, had: Had he not? said the Preacher, appealing
to all the audience: what then is _his_ duty? The people answered
affirmatively; it was a criminal forsaking of his post, if such a man
held the word that was in him silent. Poor Knox was obliged to stand
up; he attempted to reply; he could say no word;--burst into a flood
of tears, and ran out. It is worth remembering, that scene. He was in
grievous trouble for some days. He felt what a small faculty was his
for this great work. He felt what a baptism he was called to be baptized
withal. He "burst into tears."

Our primary characteristic of a Hero, that he is sincere, applies
emphatically to Knox. It is not denied anywhere that this, whatever
might be his other qualities or faults, is among the truest of men. With
a singular instinct he holds to the truth and fact; the truth alone is
there for him, the rest a mere shadow and deceptive nonentity. However
feeble, forlorn the reality may seem, on that and that only _can_ he
take his stand. In the Galleys of the River Loire, whither Knox and the
others, after their Castle of St. Andrew's was taken, had been sent as
Galley-slaves,--some officer or priest, one day, presented them an Image
of the Virgin Mother, requiring that they, the blasphemous heretics,
should do it reverence. Mother? Mother of God? said Knox, when the turn
came to him: This is no Mother of God: this is "_a pented bredd_,"--_a_
piece of wood, I tell you, with paint on it! She is fitter for swimming,
I think, than for being worshipped, added Knox; and flung the thing
into the river. It was not very cheap jesting there: but come of it what
might, this thing to Knox was and must continue nothing other than the
real truth; it was a _pented bredd_: worship it he would not.

He told his fellow-prisoners, in this darkest time, to be of courage;
the Cause they had was the true one, and must and would prosper; the
whole world could not put it down. Reality is of God's making; it is
alone strong. How many _pented bredds_, pretending to be real, are
fitter to swim than to be worshipped!--This Knox cannot live but by
fact: he clings to reality as the shipwrecked sailor to the cliff. He is
an instance to us how a man, by sincerity itself, becomes heroic: it
is the grand gift he has. We find in Knox a good honest intellectual
talent, no transcendent one;--a narrow, inconsiderable man, as compared
with Luther: but in heartfelt instinctive adherence to truth, in
_sincerity_, as we say, he has no superior; nay, one might ask, What
equal he has? The heart of him is of the true Prophet cast. "He lies
there," said the Earl of Morton at his grave, "who never feared the
face of man." He resembles, more than any of the moderns, an Old-Hebrew
Prophet. The same inflexibility, intolerance, rigid narrow-looking
adherence to God's truth, stern rebuke in the name of God to all that
forsake truth: an Old-Hebrew Prophet in the guise of an Edinburgh
Minister of the Sixteenth Century. We are to take him for that; not
require him to be other.

Knox's conduct to Queen Mary, the harsh visits he used to make in her
own palace, to reprove her there, have been much commented upon. Such
cruelty, such coarseness fills us with indignation. On reading the
actual narrative of the business, what Knox said, and what Knox meant,
I must say one's tragic feeling is rather disappointed. They are not
so coarse, these speeches; they seem to me about as fine as the
circumstances would permit! Knox was not there to do the courtier; he
came on another errand. Whoever, reading these colloquies of his with
the Queen, thinks they are vulgar insolences of a plebeian priest to a
delicate high lady, mistakes the purport and essence of them altogether.
It was unfortunately not possible to be polite with the Queen of
Scotland, unless one proved untrue to the Nation and Cause of Scotland.
A man who did not wish to see the land of his birth made a hunting-field
for intriguing ambitious Guises, and the Cause of God trampled underfoot
of Falsehoods, Formulas and the Devil's Cause, had no method of making
himself agreeable! "Better that women weep," said Morton, "than
that bearded men be forced to weep." Knox was the constitutional
opposition-party in Scotland: the Nobles of the country, called by their
station to take that post, were not found in it; Knox had to go, or no
one. The hapless Queen;--but the still more hapless Country, if _she_
were made happy! Mary herself was not without sharpness enough, among
her other qualities: "Who are you," said she once, "that presume to
school the nobles and sovereign of this realm?"--"Madam, a subject born
within the same," answered he. Reasonably answered! If the "subject"
have truth to speak, it is not the "subject's" footing that will fail
him here.--

We blame Knox for his intolerance. Well, surely it is good that each of
us be as tolerant as possible. Yet, at bottom, after all the talk there
is and has been about it, what is tolerance? Tolerance has to tolerate
the unessential; and to see well what that is. Tolerance has to be
noble, measured, just in its very wrath, when it can tolerate no longer.
But, on the whole, we are not altogether here to tolerate! We are
here to resist, to control and vanquish withal. We do not "tolerate"
Falsehoods, Thieveries, Iniquities, when they fasten on us; we say to
them, Thou art false, thou art not tolerable! We are here to extinguish
Falsehoods, and put an end to them, in some wise way! I will not quarrel
so much with the way; the doing of the thing is our great concern. In
this sense Knox was, full surely, intolerant.

A man sent to row in French Galleys, and such like, for teaching the
Truth in his own land, cannot always be in the mildest humor! I am not
prepared to say that Knox had a soft temper; nor do I know that he had
what we call an ill temper. An ill nature he decidedly had not. Kind
honest affections dwelt in the much-enduring, hard-worn, ever-battling
man. That he _could_ rebuke Queens, and had such weight among those
proud turbulent Nobles, proud enough whatever else they were; and could
maintain to the end a kind of virtual Presidency and Sovereignty in that
wild realm, he who was only "a subject born within the same:" this of
itself will prove to us that he was found, close at hand, to be no mean
acrid man; but at heart a healthful, strong, sagacious man. Such alone
can bear rule in that kind. They blame him for pulling down cathedrals,
and so forth, as if he were a seditious rioting demagogue: precisely the
reverse is seen to be the fact, in regard to cathedrals and the rest
of it, if we examine! Knox wanted no pulling down of stone edifices; he
wanted leprosy and darkness to be thrown out of the lives of men. Tumult
was not his element; it was the tragic feature of his life that he was
forced to dwell so much in that. Every such man is the born enemy of
Disorder; hates to be in it: but what then? Smooth Falsehood is not
Order; it is the general sum-total of Disorder. Order is _Truth_,--each
thing standing on the basis that belongs to it: Order and Falsehood
cannot subsist together.

Withal, unexpectedly enough, this Knox has a vein of drollery in him;
which I like much, in combination with his other qualities. He has a
true eye for the ridiculous. His _History_, with its rough earnestness,
is curiously enlivened with this. When the two Prelates, entering
Glasgow Cathedral, quarrel about precedence; march rapidly up, take
to hustling one another, twitching one another's rochets, and at last
flourishing their crosiers like quarter-staves, it is a great sight for
him every way! Not mockery, scorn, bitterness alone; though there is
enough of that too. But a true, loving, illuminating laugh mounts up
over the earnest visage; not a loud laugh; you would say, a laugh in
the _eyes_ most of all. An honest-hearted, brotherly man; brother to the
high, brother also to the low; sincere in his sympathy with both. He had
his pipe of Bourdeaux too, we find, in that old Edinburgh house of his;
a cheery social man, with faces that loved him! They go far wrong who
think this Knox was a gloomy, spasmodic, shrieking fanatic. Not at all:
he is one of the solidest of men. Practical, cautious-hopeful, patient;
a most shrewd, observing, quietly discerning man. In fact, he has very
much the type of character we assign to the Scotch at present: a certain
sardonic taciturnity is in him; insight enough; and a stouter heart than
he himself knows of. He has the power of holding his peace over many
things which do not vitally concern him,--"They? what are they?" But the
thing which does vitally concern him, that thing he will speak of; and
in a tone the whole world shall be made to hear: all the more emphatic
for his long silence.

This Prophet of the Scotch is to me no hateful man!--He had a sore fight
of an existence; wrestling with Popes and Principalities; in defeat,
contention, life-long struggle; rowing as a galley-slave, wandering as
an exile. A sore fight: but he won it. "Have you hope?" they asked him
in his last moment, when he could no longer speak. He lifted his finger,
"pointed upwards with his finger," and so died. Honor to him! His works
have not died. The letter of his work dies, as of all men's; but the
spirit of it never.

One word more as to the letter of Knox's work. The unforgivable offence
in him is, that he wished to set up Priests over the head of Kings. In
other words, he strove to make the Government of Scotland a _Theocracy_.
This indeed is properly the sum of his offences, the essential sin;
for which what pardon can there be? It is most true, he did, at bottom,
consciously or unconsciously, mean a Theocracy, or Government of God. He
did mean that Kings and Prime Ministers, and all manner of persons, in
public or private, diplomatizing or whatever else they might be doing,
should walk according to the Gospel of Christ, and understand that this
was their Law, supreme over all laws. He hoped once to see such a thing
realized; and the Petition, _Thy Kingdom come_, no longer an empty word.
He was sore grieved when he saw greedy worldly Barons clutch hold of
the Church's property; when he expostulated that it was not secular
property, that it was spiritual property, and should be turned to _true_
churchly uses, education, schools, worship;--and the Regent Murray had
to answer, with a shrug of the shoulders, "It is a devout imagination!"
This was Knox's scheme of right and truth; this he zealously endeavored
after, to realize it. If we think his scheme of truth was too narrow,
was not true, we may rejoice that he could not realize it; that it
remained after two centuries of effort, unrealizable, and is a "devout
imagination" still. But how shall we blame _him_ for struggling to
realize it? Theocracy, Government of God, is precisely the thing to
be struggled for! All Prophets, zealous Priests, are there for that
purpose. Hildebrand wished a Theocracy; Cromwell wished it, fought for
it; Mahomet attained it. Nay, is it not what all zealous men, whether
called Priests, Prophets, or whatsoever else called, do essentially
wish, and must wish? That right and truth, or God's Law, reign supreme
among men, this is the Heavenly Ideal (well named in Knox's time,
and namable in all times, a revealed "Will of God") towards which the
Reformer will insist that all be more and more approximated. All true
Reformers, as I said, are by the nature of them Priests, and strive for
a Theocracy.

How far such Ideals can ever be introduced into Practice, and at what
point our impatience with their non-introduction ought to begin,
is always a question. I think we may say safely, Let them introduce
themselves as far as they can contrive to do it! If they are the true
faith of men, all men ought to be more or less impatient always where
they are not found introduced. There will never be wanting Regent
Murrays enough to shrug their shoulders, and say, "A devout
imagination!" We will praise the Hero-priest rather, who does what is in
him to bring them in; and wears out, in toil, calumny, contradiction,
a noble life, to make a God's Kingdom of this Earth. The Earth will not
become too godlike!


[May 19, 1840.]

Hero-Gods, Prophets, Poets, Priests are forms of Heroism that belong to
the old ages, make their appearance in the remotest times; some of
them have ceased to be possible long since, and cannot any more show
themselves in this world. The Hero as _Man of Letters_, again, of which
class we are to speak to-day, is altogether a product of these new ages;
and so long as the wondrous art of _Writing_, or of Ready-writing which
we call _Printing_, subsists, he may be expected to continue, as one
of the main forms of Heroism for all future ages. He is, in various
respects, a very singular phenomenon.

He is new, I say; he has hardly lasted above a century in the world yet.
Never, till about a hundred years ago, was there seen any figure of a
Great Soul living apart in that anomalous manner; endeavoring to speak
forth the inspiration that was in him by Printed Books, and find place
and subsistence by what the world would please to give him for doing
that. Much had been sold and bought, and left to make its own bargain
in the market-place; but the inspired wisdom of a Heroic Soul never till
then, in that naked manner. He, with his copy-rights and copy-wrongs,
in his squalid garret, in his rusty coat; ruling (for this is what he
does), from his grave, after death, whole nations and generations who
would, or would not, give him bread while living,--is a rather curious
spectacle! Few shapes of Heroism can be more unexpected.

Alas, the Hero from of old has had to cramp himself into strange shapes:
the world knows not well at any time what to do with him, so foreign is
his aspect in the world! It seemed absurd to us, that men, in their rude
admiration, should take some wise great Odin for a god, and worship him
as such; some wise great Mahomet for one god-inspired, and religiously
follow his Law for twelve centuries: but that a wise great Johnson, a
Burns, a Rousseau, should be taken for some idle nondescript, extant in
the world to amuse idleness, and have a few coins and applauses thrown
him, that he might live thereby; _this_ perhaps, as before hinted, will
one day seem a still absurder phasis of things!--Meanwhile, since it
is the spiritual always that determines the material, this same
Man-of-Letters Hero must be regarded as our most important modern
person. He, such as he may be, is the soul of all. What he teaches, the
whole world will do and make. The world's manner of dealing with him is
the most significant feature of the world's general position. Looking
well at his life, we may get a glance, as deep as is readily possible
for us, into the life of those singular centuries which have produced
him, in which we ourselves live and work.

There are genuine Men of Letters, and not genuine; as in every kind
there is a genuine and a spurious. If _hero_ be taken to mean genuine,
then I say the Hero as Man of Letters will be found discharging a
function for us which is ever honorable, ever the highest; and was once
well known to be the highest. He is uttering forth, in such way as he
has, the inspired soul of him; all that a man, in any case, can do. I
say _inspired_; for what we call "originality," "sincerity," "genius,"
the heroic quality we have no good name for, signifies that. The Hero
is he who lives in the inward sphere of things, in the True, Divine
and Eternal, which exists always, unseen to most, under the Temporary,
Trivial: his being is in that; he declares that abroad, by act or speech
as it may be in declaring himself abroad. His life, as we said before,
is a piece of the everlasting heart of Nature herself: all men's life
is,--but the weak many know not the fact, and are untrue to it, in most
times; the strong few are strong, heroic, perennial, because it cannot
be hidden from them. The Man of Letters, like every Hero, is there
to proclaim this in such sort as he can. Intrinsically it is the same
function which the old generations named a man Prophet, Priest, Divinity
for doing; which all manner of Heroes, by speech or by act, are sent
into the world to do.

Fichte the German Philosopher delivered, some forty years ago at
Erlangen, a highly remarkable Course of Lectures on this subject:
"_Ueber das Wesen des Gelehrten_, On the Nature of the Literary Man."
Fichte, in conformity with the Transcendental Philosophy, of which he
was a distinguished teacher, declares first: That all things which we
see or work with in this Earth, especially we ourselves and all persons,
are as a kind of vesture or sensuous Appearance: that under all there
lies, as the essence of them, what he calls the "Divine Idea of
the World;" this is the Reality which "lies at the bottom of all
Appearance." To the mass of men no such Divine Idea is recognizable in
the world; they live merely, says Fichte, among the superficialities,
practicalities and shows of the world, not dreaming that there is
anything divine under them. But the Man of Letters is sent hither
specially that he may discern for himself, and make manifest to us, this
same Divine Idea: in every new generation it will manifest itself in
a new dialect; and he is there for the purpose of doing that. Such is
Fichte's phraseology; with which we need not quarrel. It is his way of
naming what I here, by other words, am striving imperfectly to
name; what there is at present no name for: The unspeakable Divine
Significance, full of splendor, of wonder and terror, that lies in the
being of every man, of every thing,--the Presence of the God who made
every man and thing. Mahomet taught this in his dialect; Odin in his: it
is the thing which all thinking hearts, in one dialect or another, are
here to teach.

Fichte calls the Man of Letters, therefore, a Prophet, or as he prefers
to phrase it, a Priest, continually unfolding the Godlike to men: Men
of Letters are a perpetual Priesthood, from age to age, teaching all
men that a God is still present in their life, that all "Appearance,"
whatsoever we see in the world, is but as a vesture for the "Divine Idea
of the World," for "that which lies at the bottom of Appearance." In the
true Literary Man there is thus ever, acknowledged or not by the world,
a sacredness: he is the light of the world; the world's Priest;--guiding
it, like a sacred Pillar of Fire, in its dark pilgrimage through the
waste of Time. Fichte discriminates with sharp zeal the _true_ Literary
Man, what we here call the _Hero_ as Man of Letters, from multitudes of
false unheroic. Whoever lives not wholly in this Divine Idea, or living
partially in it, struggles not, as for the one good, to live wholly
in it,--he is, let him live where else he like, in what pomps and
prosperities he like, no Literary Man; he is, says Fichte, a "Bungler,
_Stumper_." Or at best, if he belong to the prosaic provinces, he may
be a "Hodman;" Fichte even calls him elsewhere a "Nonentity," and has
in short no mercy for him, no wish that _he_ should continue happy among
us! This is Fichte's notion of the Man of Letters. It means, in its own
form, precisely what we here mean.

In this point of view, I consider that, for the last hundred years, by
far the notablest of all Literary Men is Fichte's countryman, Goethe. To
that man too, in a strange way, there was given what we may call a life
in the Divine Idea of the World; vision of the inward divine mystery:
and strangely, out of his Books, the world rises imaged once more as
godlike, the workmanship and temple of a God. Illuminated all, not
in fierce impure fire-splendor as of Mahomet, but in mild celestial
radiance;--really a Prophecy in these most unprophetic times; to my
mind, by far the greatest, though one of the quietest, among all the
great things that have come to pass in them. Our chosen specimen of the
Hero as Literary Man would be this Goethe. And it were a very pleasant
plan for me here to discourse of his heroism: for I consider him to be
a true Hero; heroic in what he said and did, and perhaps still more in
what he did not say and did not do; to me a noble spectacle: a great
heroic ancient man, speaking and keeping silence as an ancient Hero, in
the guise of a most modern, high-bred, high-cultivated Man of Letters!
We have had no such spectacle; no man capable of affording such, for the
last hundred and fifty years.

But at present, such is the general state of knowledge about Goethe, it
were worse than useless to attempt speaking of him in this case.
Speak as I might, Goethe, to the great majority of you, would remain
problematic, vague; no impression but a false one could be realized.
Him we must leave to future times. Johnson, Burns, Rousseau, three great
figures from a prior time, from a far inferior state of circumstances,
will suit us better here. Three men of the Eighteenth Century; the
conditions of their life far more resemble what those of ours still are
in England, than what Goethe's in Germany were. Alas, these men did not
conquer like him; they fought bravely, and fell. They were not heroic
bringers of the light, but heroic seekers of it. They lived under
galling conditions; struggling as under mountains of impediment, and
could not unfold themselves into clearness, or victorious interpretation
of that "Divine Idea." It is rather the _Tombs_ of three Literary Heroes
that I have to show you. There are the monumental heaps, under which
three spiritual giants lie buried. Very mournful, but also great and
full of interest for us. We will linger by them for a while.

Complaint is often made, in these times, of what we call the
disorganized condition of society: how ill many forces of society fulfil
their work; how many powerful are seen working in a wasteful, chaotic,
altogether unarranged manner. It is too just a complaint, as we all
know. But perhaps if we look at this of Books and the Writers of
Books, we shall find here, as it were, the summary of all other
disorganizations;--a sort of _heart_, from which, and to which all other
confusion circulates in the world! Considering what Book writers do in
the world, and what the world does with Book writers, I should say, It
is the most anomalous thing the world at present has to show.--We should
get into a sea far beyond sounding, did we attempt to give account of
this: but we must glance at it for the sake of our subject. The worst
element in the life of these three Literary Heroes was, that they found
their business and position such a chaos. On the beaten road there is
tolerable travelling; but it is sore work, and many have to perish,
fashioning a path through the impassable!

Our pious Fathers, feeling well what importance lay in the speaking of
man to men, founded churches, made endowments, regulations; everywhere
in the civilized world there is a Pulpit, environed with all manner of
complex dignified appurtenances and furtherances, that therefrom a man
with the tongue may, to best advantage, address his fellow-men. They
felt that this was the most important thing; that without this there was
no good thing. It is a right pious work, that of theirs; beautiful to
behold! But now with the art of Writing, with the art of Printing, a
total change has come over that business. The Writer of a Book, is not
he a Preacher preaching not to this parish or that, on this day or
that, but to all men in all times and places? Surely it is of the last
importance that _he_ do his work right, whoever do it wrong;--that the
_eye_ report not falsely, for then all the other members are astray!
Well; how he may do his work, whether he do it right or wrong, or do
it at all, is a point which no man in the world has taken the pains
to think of. To a certain shopkeeper, trying to get some money for
his books, if lucky, he is of some importance; to no other man of any.
Whence he came, whither he is bound, by what ways he arrived, by what
he might be furthered on his course, no one asks. He is an accident in
society. He wanders like a wild Ishmaelite, in a world of which he is as
the spiritual light, either the guidance or the misguidance!

Certainly the Art of Writing is the most miraculous of all things man
has devised. Odin's _Runes_ were the first form of the work of a Hero;
_Books_ written words, are still miraculous _Runes_, the latest form!
In Books lies the _soul_ of the whole Past Time; the articulate audible
voice of the Past, when the body and material substance of it has
altogether vanished like a dream. Mighty fleets and armies, harbors and
arsenals, vast cities, high-domed, many-engined,--they are precious,
great: but what do they become? Agamemnon, the many Agamemnons,
Pericleses, and their Greece; all is gone now to some ruined fragments,
dumb mournful wrecks and blocks: but the Books of Greece! There Greece,
to every thinker, still very literally lives: can be called up again
into life. No magic _Rune_ is stranger than a Book. All that Mankind has
done, thought, gained or been: it is lying as in magic preservation in
the pages of Books. They are the chosen possession of men.

Do not Books still accomplish _miracles_, as _Runes_ were fabled to do?
They persuade men. Not the wretchedest circulating-library novel,
which foolish girls thumb and con in remote villages, but will help to
regulate the actual practical weddings and households of those foolish
girls. So "Celia" felt, so "Clifford" acted: the foolish Theorem of
Life, stamped into those young brains, comes out as a solid Practice
one day. Consider whether any _Rune_ in the wildest imagination of
Mythologist ever did such wonders as, on the actual firm Earth, some
Books have done! What built St. Paul's Cathedral? Look at the heart of
the matter, it was that divine Hebrew BOOK,--the word partly of the man
Moses, an outlaw tending his Midianitish herds, four thousand years ago,
in the wildernesses of Sinai! It is the strangest of things, yet nothing
is truer. With the art of Writing, of which Printing is a simple, an
inevitable and comparatively insignificant corollary, the true reign
of miracles for mankind commenced. It related, with a wondrous new
contiguity and perpetual closeness, the Past and Distant with the
Present in time and place; all times and all places with this our actual
Here and Now. All things were altered for men; all modes of important
work of men: teaching, preaching, governing, and all else.

To look at Teaching, for instance. Universities are a notable,
respectable product of the modern ages. Their existence too is modified,
to the very basis of it, by the existence of Books. Universities arose
while there were yet no Books procurable; while a man, for a single
Book, had to give an estate of land. That, in those circumstances, when
a man had some knowledge to communicate, he should do it by gathering
the learners round him, face to face, was a necessity for him. If you
wanted to know what Abelard knew, you must go and listen to Abelard.
Thousands, as many as thirty thousand, went to hear Abelard and that
metaphysical theology of his. And now for any other teacher who had also
something of his own to teach, there was a great convenience opened:
so many thousands eager to learn were already assembled yonder; of all
places the best place for him was that. For any third teacher it was
better still; and grew ever the better, the more teachers there came.
It only needed now that the King took notice of this new phenomenon;
combined or agglomerated the various schools into one school; gave it
edifices, privileges, encouragements, and named it _Universitas_,
or School of all Sciences: the University of Paris, in its essential
characters, was there. The model of all subsequent Universities; which
down even to these days, for six centuries now, have gone on to found
themselves. Such, I conceive, was the origin of Universities.

It is clear, however, that with this simple circumstance, facility of
getting Books, the whole conditions of the business from top to bottom
were changed. Once invent Printing, you metamorphosed all Universities,
or superseded them! The Teacher needed not now to gather men personally
round him, that he might _speak_ to them what he knew: print it in a
Book, and all learners far and wide, for a trifle, had it each at his
own fireside, much more effectually to learn it!--Doubtless there is
still peculiar virtue in Speech; even writers of Books may still, in
some circumstances, find it convenient to speak also,--witness our
present meeting here! There is, one would say, and must ever remain
while man has a tongue, a distinct province for Speech as well as for
Writing and Printing. In regard to all things this must remain; to
Universities among others. But the limits of the two have nowhere yet
been pointed out, ascertained; much less put in practice: the University
which would completely take in that great new fact, of the existence of
Printed Books, and stand on a clear footing for the Nineteenth
Century as the Paris one did for the Thirteenth, has not yet come into
existence. If we think of it, all that a University, or final highest
School can do for us, is still but what the first School began
doing,--teach us to _read_. We learn to _read_, in various languages,
in various sciences; we learn the alphabet and letters of all manner
of Books. But the place where we are to get knowledge, even theoretic
knowledge, is the Books themselves! It depends on what we read,
after all manner of Professors have done their best for us. The true
University of these days is a Collection of Books.

But to the Church itself, as I hinted already, all is changed, in its
preaching, in its working, by the introduction of Books. The Church is
the working recognized Union of our Priests or Prophets, of those who by
wise teaching guide the souls of men. While there was no Writing, even
while there was no Easy-writing, or _Printing_, the preaching of the
voice was the natural sole method of performing this. But now with
Books!--He that can write a true Book, to persuade England, is not he
the Bishop and Archbishop, the Primate of England and of All England?
I many a time say, the writers of Newspapers, Pamphlets, Poems, Books,
these _are_ the real working effective Church of a modern country. Nay
not only our preaching, but even our worship, is not it too accomplished
by means of Printed Books? The noble sentiment which a gifted soul
has clothed for us in melodious words, which brings melody into our
hearts,--is not this essentially, if we will understand it, of the
nature of worship? There are many, in all countries, who, in this
confused time, have no other method of worship. He who, in any way,
shows us better than we knew before that a lily of the fields is
beautiful, does he not show it us as an effluence of the Fountain of all
Beauty; as the _handwriting_, made visible there, of the great Maker of
the Universe? He has sung for us, made us sing with him, a little verse
of a sacred Psalm. Essentially so. How much more he who sings, who
says, or in any way brings home to our heart the noble doings, feelings,
darings and endurances of a brother man! He has verily touched our
hearts as with a live coal _from the altar_. Perhaps there is no worship
more authentic.

Literature, so far as it is Literature, is an "apocalypse of Nature," a
revealing of the "open secret." It may well enough be named, in Fichte's
style, a "continuous revelation" of the Godlike in the Terrestrial and
Common. The Godlike does ever, in very truth, endure there; is
brought out, now in this dialect, now in that, with various degrees
of clearness: all true gifted Singers and Speakers are, consciously or
unconsciously, doing so. The dark stormful indignation of a Byron, so
wayward and perverse, may have touches of it; nay the withered mockery
of a French sceptic,--his mockery of the False, a love and worship of
the True. How much more the sphere-harmony of a Shakspeare, of a Goethe;
the cathedral music of a Milton! They are something too, those humble
genuine lark-notes of a Burns,--skylark, starting from the humble
furrow, far overhead into the blue depths, and singing to us so
genuinely there! For all true singing is of the nature of worship; as
indeed all true _working_ may be said to be,--whereof such _singing_ is
but the record, and fit melodious representation, to us. Fragments of a
real "Church Liturgy" and "Body of Homilies," strangely disguised from
the common eye, are to be found weltering in that huge froth-ocean of
Printed Speech we loosely call Literature! Books are our Church too.

Or turning now to the Government of men. Witenagemote, old Parliament,
was a great thing. The affairs of the nation were there deliberated and
decided; what we were to _do_ as a nation. But does not, though the name
Parliament subsists, the parliamentary debate go on now, everywhere
and at all times, in a far more comprehensive way, _out_ of Parliament
altogether? Burke said there were Three Estates in Parliament; but,
in the Reporters' Gallery yonder, there sat a _Fourth Estate_ more
important far than they all. It is not a figure of speech, or a witty
saying; it is a literal fact,--very momentous to us in these times.
Literature is our Parliament too. Printing, which comes necessarily out
of Writing, I say often, is equivalent to Democracy: invent Writing,
Democracy is inevitable. Writing brings Printing; brings universal
everyday extempore Printing, as we see at present. Whoever can
speak, speaking now to the whole nation, becomes a power, a branch
of government, with inalienable weight in law-making, in all acts of
authority. It matters not what rank he has, what revenues or garnitures.
the requisite thing is, that he have a tongue which others will listen
to; this and nothing more is requisite. The nation is governed by all
that has tongue in the nation: Democracy is virtually _there_. Add only,
that whatsoever power exists will have itself, by and by, organized;
working secretly under bandages, obscurations, obstructions, it will
never rest till it get to work free, unencumbered, visible to all.
Democracy virtually extant will insist on becoming palpably extant.--

On all sides, are we not driven to the conclusion that, of the things
which man can do or make here below, by far the most momentous,
wonderful and worthy are the things we call Books! Those poor bits
of rag-paper with black ink on them;--from the Daily Newspaper to
the sacred Hebrew BOOK, what have they not done, what are they not
doing!--For indeed, whatever be the outward form of the thing (bits
of paper, as we say, and black ink), is it not verily, at bottom, the
highest act of man's faculty that produces a Book? It is the _Thought_
of man; the true thaumaturgic virtue; by which man works all things
whatsoever. All that he does, and brings to pass, is the vesture of a
Thought. This London City, with all its houses, palaces, steam-engines,
cathedrals, and huge immeasurable traffic and tumult, what is it but a
Thought, but millions of Thoughts made into One;--a huge immeasurable
Spirit of a THOUGHT, embodied in brick, in iron, smoke, dust, Palaces,
Parliaments, Hackney Coaches, Katherine Docks, and the rest of it! Not
a brick was made but some man had to _think_ of the making of that
brick.--The thing we called "bits of paper with traces of black ink," is
the _purest_ embodiment a Thought of man can have. No wonder it is, in
all ways, the activest and noblest.

All this, of the importance and supreme importance of the Man of Letters
in modern Society, and how the Press is to such a degree superseding
the Pulpit, the Senate, the _Senatus Academicus_ and much else, has been
admitted for a good while; and recognized often enough, in late times,
with a sort of sentimental triumph and wonderment. It seems to me, the
Sentimental by and by will have to give place to the Practical. If Men
of Letters _are_ so incalculably influential, actually performing such
work for us from age to age, and even from day to day, then I think
we may conclude that Men of Letters will not always wander like
unrecognized unregulated Ishmaelites among us! Whatsoever thing, as I
said above, has virtual unnoticed power will cast off its wrappages,
bandages, and step forth one day with palpably articulated, universally
visible power. That one man wear the clothes, and take the wages, of a
function which is done by quite another: there can be no profit in
this; this is not right, it is wrong. And yet, alas, the _making_ of it
right,--what a business, for long times to come! Sure enough, this that
we call Organization of the Literary Guild is still a great way off,
encumbered with all manner of complexities. If you asked me what were
the best possible organization for the Men of Letters in modern society;
the arrangement of furtherance and regulation, grounded the most
accurately on the actual facts of their position and of the world's
position,--I should beg to say that the problem far exceeded my faculty!
It is not one man's faculty; it is that of many successive men turned
earnestly upon it, that will bring out even an approximate solution.
What the best arrangement were, none of us could say. But if you ask,
Which is the worst? I answer: This which we now have, that Chaos should
sit umpire in it; this is the worst. To the best, or any good one, there
is yet a long way.

One remark I must not omit, That royal or parliamentary grants of money
are by no means the chief thing wanted! To give our Men of Letters
stipends, endowments and all furtherance of cash, will do little
towards the business. On the whole, one is weary of hearing about the
omnipotence of money. I will say rather that, for a genuine man, it is
no evil to be poor; that there ought to be Literary Men poor,--to show
whether they are genuine or not! Mendicant Orders, bodies of good men
doomed to beg, were instituted in the Christian Church; a most natural
and even necessary development of the spirit of Christianity. It was
itself founded on Poverty, on Sorrow, Contradiction, Crucifixion, every
species of worldly Distress and Degradation. We may say, that he who has
not known those things, and learned from them the priceless lessons they
have to teach, has missed a good opportunity of schooling. To beg, and
go barefoot, in coarse woollen cloak with a rope round your loins,
and be despised of all the world, was no beautiful business;--nor an
honorable one in any eye, till the nobleness of those who did so had
made it honored of some!

Begging is not in our course at the present time: but for the rest of
it, who will say that a Johnson is not perhaps the better for being
poor? It is needful for him, at all rates, to know that outward profit,
that success of any kind is _not_ the goal he has to aim at. Pride,
vanity, ill-conditioned egoism of all sorts, are bred in his heart, as
in every heart; need, above all, to be cast out of his heart,--to be,
with whatever pangs, torn out of it, cast forth from it, as a thing
worthless. Byron, born rich and noble, made out even less than
Burns, poor and plebeian. Who knows but, in that same "best possible
organization" as yet far off, Poverty may still enter as an important
element? What if our Men of Letters, men setting up to be Spiritual
Heroes, were still _then_, as they now are, a kind of "involuntary
monastic order;" bound still to this same ugly Poverty,--till they had
tried what was in it too, till they had learned to make it too do for
them! Money, in truth, can do much, but it cannot do all. We must know
the province of it, and confine it there; and even spurn it back, when
it wishes to get farther.

Besides, were the money-furtherances, the proper season for them, the
fit assigner of them, all settled,--how is the Burns to be recognized
that merits these? He must pass through the ordeal, and prove himself.
_This_ ordeal; this wild welter of a chaos which is called Literary
Life: this too is a kind of ordeal! There is clear truth in the idea
that a struggle from the lower classes of society, towards the upper
regions and rewards of society, must ever continue. Strong men are
born there, who ought to stand elsewhere than there. The manifold,
inextricably complex, universal struggle of these constitutes, and must
constitute, what is called the progress of society. For Men of Letters,
as for all other sorts of men. How to regulate that struggle? There is
the whole question. To leave it as it is, at the mercy of blind Chance;
a whirl of distracted atoms, one cancelling the other; one of the
thousand arriving saved, nine hundred and ninety-nine lost by the way;
your royal Johnson languishing inactive in garrets, or harnessed to the
yoke of Printer Cave; your Burns dying broken-hearted as a Gauger; your
Rousseau driven into mad exasperation, kindling French Revolutions
by his paradoxes: this, as we said, is clearly enough the _worst_
regulation. The _best_, alas, is far from us!

And yet there can be no doubt but it is coming; advancing on us, as yet
hidden in the bosom of centuries: this is a prophecy one can risk.
For so soon as men get to discern the importance of a thing, they do
infallibly set about arranging it, facilitating, forwarding it; and rest
not till, in some approximate degree, they have accomplished that. I
say, of all Priesthoods, Aristocracies, Governing Classes at present
extant in the world, there is no class comparable for importance to that
Priesthood of the Writers of Books. This is a fact which he who runs may
read,--and draw inferences from. "Literature will take care of itself,"
answered Mr. Pitt, when applied to for some help for Burns. "Yes," adds
Mr. Southey, "it will take care of itself; _and of you too_, if you do
not look to it!"

The result to individual Men of Letters is not the momentous one; they
are but individuals, an infinitesimal fraction of the great body; they
can struggle on, and live or else die, as they have been wont. But it
deeply concerns the whole society, whether it will set its _light_ on
high places, to walk thereby; or trample it under foot, and scatter it
in all ways of wild waste (not without conflagration), as heretofore!
Light is the one thing wanted for the world. Put wisdom in the head of
the world, the world will fight its battle victoriously, and be the best
world man can make it. I called this anomaly of a disorganic Literary
Class the heart of all other anomalies, at once product and parent; some
good arrangement for that would be as the _punctum saliens_ of a
new vitality and just arrangement for all. Already, in some European
countries, in France, in Prussia, one traces some beginnings of an
arrangement for the Literary Class; indicating the gradual possibility
of such. I believe that it is possible; that it will have to be

By far the most interesting fact I hear about the Chinese is one on
which we cannot arrive at clearness, but which excites endless curiosity
even in the dim state: this namely, that they do attempt to make their
Men of Letters their Governors! It would be rash to say, one understood
how this was done, or with what degree of success it was done. All
such things must be very unsuccessful; yet a small degree of success is
precious; the very attempt how precious! There does seem to be, all over
China, a more or less active search everywhere to discover the men of
talent that grow up in the young generation. Schools there are for
every one: a foolish sort of training, yet still a sort. The youths who
distinguish themselves in the lower school are promoted into
favorable stations in the higher, that they may still more distinguish
themselves,--forward and forward: it appears to be out of these that
the Official Persons, and incipient Governors, are taken. These are they
whom they _try_ first, whether they can govern or not. And surely with
the best hope: for they are the men that have already shown intellect.
Try them: they have not governed or administered as yet; perhaps they
cannot; but there is no doubt they _have_ some Understanding,--without
which no man can! Neither is Understanding a _tool_, as we are too apt
to figure; "it is a _hand_ which can handle any tool." Try these men:
they are of all others the best worth trying.--Surely there is no
kind of government, constitution, revolution, social apparatus or
arrangement, that I know of in this world, so promising to one's
scientific curiosity as this. The man of intellect at the top of
affairs: this is the aim of all constitutions and revolutions, if they
have any aim. For the man of true intellect, as I assert and believe
always, is the noble-hearted man withal, the true, just, humane and
valiant man. Get him for governor, all is got; fail to get him, though
you had Constitutions plentiful as blackberries, and a Parliament in
every village, there is nothing yet got--!

These things look strange, truly; and are not such as we commonly
speculate upon. But we are fallen into strange times; these things will
require to be speculated upon; to be rendered practicable, to be in some
way put in practice. These, and many others. On all hands of us, there
is the announcement, audible enough, that the old Empire of Routine
has ended; that to say a thing has long been, is no reason for its
continuing to be. The things which have been are fallen into decay, are
fallen into incompetence; large masses of mankind, in every society of
our Europe, are no longer capable of living at all by the things which
have been. When millions of men can no longer by their utmost exertion
gain food for themselves, and "the third man for thirty-six weeks each
year is short of third-rate potatoes," the things which have been must
decidedly prepare to alter themselves!--I will now quit this of the
organization of Men of Letters.

Alas, the evil that pressed heaviest on those Literary Heroes of ours
was not the want of organization for Men of Letters, but a far deeper
one; out of which, indeed, this and so many other evils for the Literary
Man, and for all men, had, as from their fountain, taken rise. That our
Hero as Man of Letters had to travel without highway, companionless,
through an inorganic chaos,--and to leave his own life and faculty lying
there, as a partial contribution towards _pushing_ some highway through
it: this, had not his faculty itself been so perverted and paralyzed, he
might have put up with, might have considered to be but the common lot
of Heroes. His fatal misery was the _spiritual paralysis_, so we may
name it, of the Age in which his life lay; whereby his life too, do what
he might, was half paralyzed! The Eighteenth was a _Sceptical_ Century;
in which little word there is a whole Pandora's Box of miseries.
Scepticism means not intellectual Doubt alone, but moral Doubt; all
sorts of infidelity, insincerity, spiritual paralysis. Perhaps, in few
centuries that one could specify since the world began, was a life of
Heroism more difficult for a man. That was not an age of Faith,--an
age of Heroes! The very possibility of Heroism had been, as it were,
formally abnegated in the minds of all. Heroism was gone forever;
Triviality, Formulism and Commonplace were come forever. The "age of
miracles" had been, or perhaps had not been; but it was not any longer.
An effete world; wherein Wonder, Greatness, Godhood could not now
dwell;--in one word, a godless world!

How mean, dwarfish are their ways of thinking, in this time,--compared
not with the Christian Shakspeares and Miltons, but with the old Pagan
Skalds, with any species of believing men! The living TREE Igdrasil,
with the melodious prophetic waving of its world-wide boughs,
deep-rooted as Hela, has died out into the clanking of a World-MACHINE.
"Tree" and "Machine:" contrast these two things. I, for my share,
declare the world to be no machine! I say that it does _not_ go by
wheel-and-pinion "motives" self-interests, checks, balances; that there
is something far other in it than the clank of spinning-jennies, and
parliamentary majorities; and, on the whole, that it is not a machine at
all!--The old Norse Heathen had a truer motion of God's-world than these
poor Machine-Sceptics: the old Heathen Norse were _sincere_ men. But
for these poor Sceptics there was no sincerity, no truth. Half-truth and
hearsay was called truth. Truth, for most men, meant plausibility; to be
measured by the number of votes you could get. They had lost any
notion that sincerity was possible, or of what sincerity was. How many
Plausibilities asking, with unaffected surprise and the air of offended
virtue, What! am not I sincere? Spiritual Paralysis, I say, nothing left
but a Mechanical life, was the characteristic of that century. For the
common man, unless happily he stood _below_ his century and belonged to
another prior one, it was impossible to be a Believer, a Hero; he lay
buried, unconscious, under these baleful influences. To the strongest
man, only with infinite struggle and confusion was it possible to work
himself half loose; and lead as it were, in an enchanted, most tragical
way, a spiritual death-in-life, and be a Half-Hero!

Scepticism is the name we give to all this; as the chief symptom, as the
chief origin of all this. Concerning which so much were to be said! It
would take many Discourses, not a small fraction of one Discourse, to
state what one feels about that Eighteenth Century and its ways. As
indeed this, and the like of this, which we now call Scepticism, is
precisely the black malady and life-foe, against which all teaching and
discoursing since man's life began has directed itself: the battle of
Belief against Unbelief is the never-ending battle! Neither is it in the
way of crimination that one would wish to speak. Scepticism, for that
century, we must consider as the decay of old ways of believing, the
preparation afar off for new better and wider ways,--an inevitable
thing. We will not blame men for it; we will lament their hard fate. We
will understand that destruction of old _forms_ is not destruction of
everlasting _substances_; that Scepticism, as sorrowful and hateful as
we see it, is not an end but a beginning.

The other day speaking, without prior purpose that way, of Bentham's
theory of man and man's life, I chanced to call it a more beggarly one
than Mahomet's. I am bound to say, now when it is once uttered, that
such is my deliberate opinion. Not that one would mean offence against
the man Jeremy Bentham, or those who respect and believe him. Bentham
himself, and even the creed of Bentham, seems to me comparatively worthy
of praise. It is a determinate _being_ what all the world, in a cowardly
half-and-half manner, was tending to be. Let us have the crisis; we
shall either have death or the cure. I call this gross, steam-engine
Utilitarianism an approach towards new Faith. It was a laying-down
of cant; a saying to oneself: "Well then, this world is a dead iron
machine, the god of it Gravitation and selfish Hunger; let us see what,
by checking and balancing, and good adjustment of tooth and pinion,
can be made of it!" Benthamism has something complete, manful, in such
fearless committal of itself to what it finds true; you may call it
Heroic, though a Heroism with its _eyes_ put out! It is the culminating
point, and fearless ultimatum, of what lay in the half-and-half state,
pervading man's whole existence in that Eighteenth Century. It seems to
me, all deniers of Godhood, and all lip-believers of it, are bound to
be Benthamites, if they have courage and honesty. Benthamism is an
_eyeless_ Heroism: the Human Species, like a hapless blinded Samson
grinding in the Philistine Mill, clasps convulsively the pillars of
its Mill; brings huge ruin down, but ultimately deliverance withal. Of
Bentham I meant to say no harm.

But this I do say, and would wish all men to know and lay to heart,
that he who discerns nothing but Mechanism in the Universe has in the
fatalest way missed the secret of the Universe altogether. That all
Godhood should vanish out of men's conception of this Universe seems to
me precisely the most brutal error,--I will not disparage Heathenism by
calling it a Heathen error,--that men could fall into. It is not true;
it is false at the very heart of it. A man who thinks so will think
_wrong_ about all things in the world; this original sin will vitiate
all other conclusions he can form. One might call it the most lamentable
of Delusions,--not forgetting Witchcraft itself! Witchcraft worshipped
at least a living Devil; but this worships a dead iron Devil; no God,
not even a Devil! Whatsoever is noble, divine, inspired, drops
thereby out of life. There remains everywhere in life a despicable
_caput-mortuum_; the mechanical hull, all soul fled out of it. How can a
man act heroically? The "Doctrine of Motives" will teach him that it is,
under more or less disguise, nothing but a wretched love of Pleasure,
fear of Pain; that Hunger, of applause, of cash, of whatsoever victual
it may be, is the ultimate fact of man's life. Atheism, in brief;--which
does indeed frightfully punish itself. The man, I say, is become
spiritually a paralytic man; this godlike Universe a dead mechanical
steam-engine, all working by motives, checks, balances, and I know not
what; wherein, as in the detestable belly of some Phalaris'-Bull of his
own contriving, he the poor Phalaris sits miserably dying!

Belief I define to be the healthy act of a man's mind. It
is a mysterious indescribable process, that of getting to
believe;--indescribable, as all vital acts are. We have our mind given
us, not that it may cavil and argue, but that it may see into something,
give us clear belief and understanding about something, whereon we are
then to proceed to act. Doubt, truly, is not itself a crime. Certainly
we do not rush out, clutch up the first thing we find, and straightway
believe that! All manner of doubt, inquiry, [Gr.] _skepsis_ as it is
named, about all manner of objects, dwells in every reasonable mind. It
is the mystic working of the mind, on the object it is _getting_ to know
and believe. Belief comes out of all this, above ground, like the tree
from its hidden _roots_. But now if, even on common things, we require
that a man keep his doubts _silent_, and not babble of them till they in
some measure become affirmations or denials; how much more in regard to
the highest things, impossible to speak of in words at all! That a man
parade his doubt, and get to imagine that debating and logic (which
means at best only the manner of _telling_ us your thought, your belief
or disbelief, about a thing) is the triumph and true work of what
intellect he has: alas, this is as if you should _overturn_ the tree,
and instead of green boughs, leaves and fruits, show us ugly taloned
roots turned up into the air,--and no growth, only death and misery
going on!

For the Scepticism, as I said, is not intellectual only; it is moral
also; a chronic atrophy and disease of the whole soul. A man lives by
believing something; not by debating and arguing about many things. A
sad case for him when all that he can manage to believe is something
he can button in his pocket, and with one or the other organ eat and
digest! Lower than that he will not get. We call those ages in which
he gets so low the mournfulest, sickest and meanest of all ages. The
world's heart is palsied, sick: how can any limb of it be whole?
Genuine Acting ceases in all departments of the world's work; dexterous
Similitude of Acting begins. The world's wages are pocketed, the
world's work is not done. Heroes have gone out; Quacks have come in.
Accordingly, what Century, since the end of the Roman world, which also
was a time of scepticism, simulacra and universal decadence, so
abounds with Quacks as that Eighteenth? Consider them, with their
tumid sentimental vaporing about virtue, benevolence,--the wretched
Quack-squadron, Cagliostro at the head of them! Few men were without
quackery; they had got to consider it a necessary ingredient and amalgam
for truth. Chatham, our brave Chatham himself, comes down to the House,
all wrapt and bandaged; he "has crawled out in great bodily suffering,"
and so on;--_forgets_, says Walpole, that he is acting the sick man; in
the fire of debate, snatches his arm from the sling, and oratorically
swings and brandishes it! Chatham himself lives the strangest mimetic
life, half-hero, half-quack, all along. For indeed the world is full of
dupes; and you have to gain the _world's_ suffrage! How the duties of
the world will be done in that case, what quantities of error, which
means failure, which means sorrow and misery, to some and to many, will
gradually accumulate in all provinces of the world's business, we need
not compute.

It seems to me, you lay your finger here on the heart of the world's
maladies, when you call it a Sceptical World. An insincere world; a
godless untruth of a world! It is out of this, as I consider, that the
whole tribe of social pestilences, French Revolutions, Chartisms, and
what not, have derived their being,--their chief necessity to be. This
must alter. Till this alter, nothing can beneficially alter. My one hope
of the world, my inexpugnable consolation in looking at the miseries of
the world, is that this is altering. Here and there one does now find
a man who knows, as of old, that this world is a Truth, and no
Plausibility and Falsity; that he himself is alive, not dead or
paralytic; and that the world is alive, instinct with Godhood, beautiful
and awful, even as in the beginning of days! One man once knowing this,
many men, all men, must by and by come to know it. It lies there clear,
for whosoever will take the _spectacles_ off his eyes and honestly look,
to know! For such a man the Unbelieving Century, with its unblessed
Products, is already past; a new century is already come. The old
unblessed Products and Performances, as solid as they look, are
Phantasms, preparing speedily to vanish. To this and the other noisy,
very great-looking Simulacrum with the whole world huzzaing at its
heels, he can say, composedly stepping aside: Thou art not _true_; thou
art not extant, only semblant; go thy way!--Yes, hollow Formulism, gross
Benthamism, and other unheroic atheistic Insincerity is visibly and
even rapidly declining. An unbelieving Eighteenth Century is but an
exception,--such as now and then occurs. I prophesy that the world will
once more become _sincere_; a believing world; with _many_ Heroes in it,
a heroic world! It will then be a victorious world; never till then.

Or indeed what of the world and its victories? Men speak too much about
the world. Each one of us here, let the world go how it will, and be
victorious or not victorious, has he not a Life of his own to lead? One
Life; a little gleam of Time between two Eternities; no second chance to
us forevermore! It were well for us to live not as fools and simulacra,
but as wise and realities. The world's being saved will not save us; nor
the world's being lost destroy us. We should look to ourselves: there is
great merit here in the "duty of staying at home"! And, on the whole,
to say truth, I never heard of "world's" being "saved" in any other way.
That mania of saving worlds is itself a piece of the Eighteenth Century
with its windy sentimentalism. Let us not follow it too far. For the
saving of the _world_ I will trust confidently to the Maker of the
world; and look a little to my own saving, which I am more competent
to!--In brief, for the world's sake, and for our own, we will rejoice
greatly that Scepticism, Insincerity, Mechanical Atheism, with all their
poison-dews, are going, and as good as gone.--

Now it was under such conditions, in those times of Johnson, that our
Men of Letters had to live. Times in which there was properly no truth
in life. Old truths had fallen nigh dumb; the new lay yet hidden, not
trying to speak. That Man's Life here below was a Sincerity and Fact,
and would forever continue such, no new intimation, in that dusk of
the world, had yet dawned. No intimation; not even any French
Revolution,--which we define to be a Truth once more, though a Truth
clad in hell-fire! How different was the Luther's pilgrimage, with
its assured goal, from the Johnson's, girt with mere traditions,
suppositions, grown now incredible, unintelligible! Mahomet's Formulas
were of "wood waxed and oiled," and could be burnt out of one's way:
poor Johnson's were far more difficult to burn.--The strong man will
ever find _work_, which means difficulty, pain, to the full measure of
his strength. But to make out a victory, in those circumstances of our
poor Hero as Man of Letters, was perhaps more difficult than in any. Not
obstruction, disorganization, Bookseller Osborne and Fourpence-halfpenny
a day; not this alone; but the light of his own soul was taken from him.
No landmark on the Earth; and, alas, what is that to having no loadstar
in the Heaven! We need not wonder that none of those Three men rose to
victory. That they fought truly is the highest praise. With a mournful
sympathy we will contemplate, if not three living victorious Heroes, as
I said, the Tombs of three fallen Heroes! They fell for us too; making
a way for us. There are the mountains which they hurled abroad in their
confused War of the Giants; under which, their strength and life spent,
they now lie buried.

I have already written of these three Literary Heroes, expressly or
incidentally; what I suppose is known to most of you; what need not be
spoken or written a second time. They concern us here as the singular
_Prophets_ of that singular age; for such they virtually were; and the
aspect they and their world exhibit, under this point of view, might
lead us into reflections enough! I call them, all three, Genuine Men
more or less; faithfully, for most part unconsciously, struggling to be
genuine, and plant themselves on the everlasting truth of things. This
to a degree that eminently distinguishes them from the poor artificial
mass of their contemporaries; and renders them worthy to be considered
as Speakers, in some measure, of the everlasting truth, as Prophets in
that age of theirs. By Nature herself a noble necessity was laid on them
to be so. They were men of such magnitude that they could not live on
unrealities,--clouds, froth and all inanity gave way under them: there
was no footing for them but on firm earth; no rest or regular motion for
them, if they got not footing there. To a certain extent, they were Sons
of Nature once more in an age of Artifice; once more, Original Men.

As for Johnson, I have always considered him to be, by nature, one
of our great English souls. A strong and noble man; so much left
undeveloped in him to the last: in a kindlier element what might he not
have been,--Poet, Priest, sovereign Ruler! On the whole, a man must not
complain of his "element," of his "time," or the like; it is thriftless
work doing so. His time is bad: well then, he is there to make it
better!--Johnson's youth was poor, isolated, hopeless, very miserable.
Indeed, it does not seem possible that, in any the favorablest outward
circumstances, Johnson's life could have been other than a painful one.
The world might have had more of profitable _work_ out of him, or less;
but his _effort_ against the world's work could never have been a light
one. Nature, in return for his nobleness, had said to him, Live in an
element of diseased sorrow. Nay, perhaps the sorrow and the nobleness
were intimately and even inseparably connected with each other. At all
events, poor Johnson had to go about girt with continual hypochondria,
physical and spiritual pain. Like a Hercules with the burning
Nessus'-shirt on him, which shoots in on him dull incurable misery: the
Nessus'-shirt not to be stript off, which is his own natural skin! In
this manner _he_ had to live. Figure him there, with his scrofulous
diseases, with his great greedy heart, and unspeakable chaos of
thoughts; stalking mournful as a stranger in this Earth; eagerly
devouring what spiritual thing he could come at: school-languages
and other merely grammatical stuff, if there were nothing better! The
largest soul that was in all England; and provision made for it of
"fourpence-halfpenny a day." Yet a giant invincible soul; a true man's.
One remembers always that story of the shoes at Oxford: the rough,
seamy-faced, rawboned College Servitor stalking about, in winter-season,
with his shoes worn out; how the charitable Gentleman Commoner secretly
places a new pair at his door; and the rawboned Servitor, lifting them,
looking at them near, with his dim eyes, with what thoughts,--pitches
them out of window! Wet feet, mud, frost, hunger or what you will; but
not beggary: we cannot stand beggary! Rude stubborn self-help here;
a whole world of squalor, rudeness, confused misery and want, yet of
nobleness and manfulness withal. It is a type of the man's life,
this pitching away of the shoes. An original man;--not a second-hand,
borrowing or begging man. Let us stand on our own basis, at any rate! On
such shoes as we ourselves can get. On frost and mud, if you will, but
honestly on that;--on the reality and substance which Nature gives _us_,
not on the semblance, on the thing she has given another than us--!

And yet with all this rugged pride of manhood and self-help, was there
ever soul more tenderly affectionate, loyally submissive to what was
really higher than he? Great souls are always loyally submissive,
reverent to what is over them; only small mean souls are otherwise. I
could not find a better proof of what I said the other day, That the
sincere man was by nature the obedient man; that only in a World
of Heroes was there loyal Obedience to the Heroic. The essence of
_originality_ is not that it be _new_: Johnson believed altogether in
the old; he found the old opinions credible for him, fit for him; and in
a right heroic manner lived under them. He is well worth study in regard
to that. For we are to say that Johnson was far other than a mere man
of words and formulas; he was a man of truths and facts. He stood by the
old formulas; the happier was it for him that he could so stand: but in
all formulas that _he_ could stand by, there needed to be a most
genuine substance. Very curious how, in that poor Paper-age, so barren,
artificial, thick-quilted with Pedantries, Hearsays, the great Fact of
this Universe glared in, forever wonderful, indubitable, unspeakable,
divine-infernal, upon this man too! How he harmonized his Formulas with
it, how he managed at all under such circumstances: that is a thing
worth seeing. A thing "to be looked at with reverence, with pity, with
awe." That Church of St. Clement Danes, where Johnson still _worshipped_
in the era of Voltaire, is to me a venerable place.

It was in virtue of his _sincerity_, of his speaking still in some sort
from the heart of Nature, though in the current artificial dialect, that
Johnson was a Prophet. Are not all dialects "artificial"? Artificial
things are not all false;--nay every true Product of Nature will
infallibly _shape_ itself; we may say all artificial things are, at
the starting of them, _true_. What we call "Formulas" are not in their
origin bad; they are indispensably good. Formula is _method_, habitude;
found wherever man is found. Formulas fashion themselves as Paths do, as
beaten Highways, leading toward some sacred or high object, whither many
men are bent. Consider it. One man, full of heartfelt earnest impulse,
finds out a way of doing somewhat,--were it of uttering his soul's
reverence for the Highest, were it but of fitly saluting his fellow-man.
An inventor was needed to do that, a _poet_; he has articulated the
dim-struggling thought that dwelt in his own and many hearts. This
is his way of doing that; these are his footsteps, the beginning of a
"Path." And now see: the second men travels naturally in the footsteps
of his foregoer, it is the _easiest_ method. In the footsteps of his
foregoer; yet with improvements, with changes where such seem good; at
all events with enlargements, the Path ever _widening_ itself as more
travel it;--till at last there is a broad Highway whereon the whole
world may travel and drive. While there remains a City or Shrine, or
any Reality to drive to, at the farther end, the Highway shall be right
welcome! When the City is gone, we will forsake the Highway. In this
manner all Institutions, Practices, Regulated Things in the world have
come into existence, and gone out of existence. Formulas all begin
by being _full_ of substance; you may call them the _skin_, the
articulation into shape, into limbs and skin, of a substance that is
already there: _they_ had not been there otherwise. Idols, as we said,
are not idolatrous till they become doubtful, empty for the worshipper's
heart. Much as we talk against Formulas, I hope no one of us is ignorant
withal of the high significance of _true_ Formulas; that they were, and
will ever be, the indispensablest furniture of our habitation in this

Mark, too, how little Johnson boasts of his "sincerity." He has no
suspicion of his being particularly sincere,--of his being particularly
anything! A hard-struggling, weary-hearted man, or "scholar" as he calls
himself, trying hard to get some honest livelihood in the world, not
to starve, but to live--without stealing! A noble unconsciousness is in
him. He does not "engrave _Truth_ on his watch-seal;" no, but he stands
by truth, speaks by it, works and lives by it. Thus it ever is. Think of
it once more. The man whom Nature has appointed to do great things is,
first of all, furnished with that openness to Nature which renders him
incapable of being _in_sincere! To his large, open, deep-feeling heart
Nature is a Fact: all hearsay is hearsay; the unspeakable greatness of
this Mystery of Life, let him acknowledge it or not, nay even though
he seem to forget it or deny it, is ever present to _him_,--fearful
and wonderful, on this hand and on that. He has a basis of sincerity;
unrecognized, because never questioned or capable of question. Mirabeau,
Mahomet, Cromwell, Napoleon: all the Great Men I ever heard of have
this as the primary material of them. Innumerable commonplace men are
debating, are talking everywhere their commonplace doctrines, which they
have learned by logic, by rote, at second-hand: to that kind of man all
this is still nothing. He must have truth; truth which _he_ feels to be
true. How shall he stand otherwise? His whole soul, at all moments, in
all ways, tells him that there is no standing. He is under the noble
necessity of being true. Johnson's way of thinking about this world is
not mine, any more than Mahomet's was: but I recognize the everlasting
element of _heart-sincerity_ in both; and see with pleasure how neither
of them remains ineffectual. Neither of them is as _chaff_ sown; in both
of them is something which the seedfield will _grow_.

Johnson was a Prophet to his people; preached a Gospel to them,--as all
like him always do. The highest Gospel he preached we may describe as a
kind of Moral Prudence: "in a world where much is to be done, and little
is to be known," see how you will _do_ it! A thing well worth preaching.
"A world where much is to be done, and little is to be known:" do not
sink yourselves in boundless bottomless abysses of Doubt, of wretched
god-forgetting Unbelief;--you were miserable then, powerless, mad:
how could you _do_ or work at all? Such Gospel Johnson preached and
taught;--coupled, theoretically and practically, with this other great
Gospel, "Clear your mind of Cant!" Have no trade with Cant: stand on the
cold mud in the frosty weather, but let it be in your own _real_ torn
shoes: "that will be better for you," as Mahomet says! I call this, I
call these two things _joined together_, a great Gospel, the greatest
perhaps that was possible at that time.

Johnson's Writings, which once had such currency and celebrity, are
now as it were disowned by the young generation. It is not wonderful;
Johnson's opinions are fast becoming obsolete: but his style of thinking
and of living, we may hope, will never become obsolete. I find in
Johnson's Books the indisputablest traces of a great intellect and great
heart;--ever welcome, under what obstructions and perversions soever.
They are _sincere_ words, those of his; he means things by them. A
wondrous buckram style,--the best he could get to then; a measured
grandiloquence, stepping or rather stalking along in a very solemn
way, grown obsolete now; sometimes a tumid _size_ of phraseology not in
proportion to the contents of it: all this you will put up with. For
the phraseology, tumid or not, has always _something within it_. So
many beautiful styles and books, with _nothing_ in them;--a man is
a malefactor to the world who writes such! _They_ are the avoidable
kind!--Had Johnson left nothing but his _Dictionary_, one might have
traced there a great intellect, a genuine man. Looking to its clearness
of definition, its general solidity, honesty, insight and successful
method, it may be called the best of all Dictionaries. There is in it
a kind of architectural nobleness; it stands there like a great solid
square-built edifice, finished, symmetrically complete: you judge that a
true Builder did it.

One word, in spite of our haste, must be granted to poor Bozzy. He
passes for a mean, inflated, gluttonous creature; and was so in many
senses. Yet the fact of his reverence for Johnson will ever remain
noteworthy. The foolish conceited Scotch Laird, the most conceited man
of his time, approaching in such awe-struck attitude the great dusty
irascible Pedagogue in his mean garret there: it is a genuine reverence
for Excellence; a _worship_ for Heroes, at a time when neither Heroes
nor worship were surmised to exist. Heroes, it would seem, exist always,
and a certain worship of them! We will also take the liberty to deny
altogether that of the witty Frenchman, that no man is a Hero to his
valet-de-chambre. Or if so, it is not the Hero's blame, but the Valet's:
that his soul, namely, is a mean _valet_-soul! He expects his Hero
to advance in royal stage-trappings, with measured step, trains borne
behind him, trumpets sounding before him. It should stand rather, No
man can be a _Grand-Monarque_ to his valet-de-chambre. Strip your Louis
Quatorze of his king-gear, and there _is_ left nothing but a poor forked
radish with a head fantastically carved;--admirable to no valet. The
Valet does not know a Hero when he sees him! Alas, no: it requires a
kind of _Hero_ to do that;--and one of the world's wants, in _this_ as
in other senses, is for most part want of such.

On the whole, shall we not say, that Boswell's admiration was well
bestowed; that he could have found no soul in all England so worthy of
bending down before? Shall we not say, of this great mournful Johnson
too, that he guided his difficult confused existence wisely; led it
_well_, like a right valiant man? That waste chaos of Authorship by
trade; that waste chaos of Scepticism in religion and politics, in
life-theory and life-practice; in his poverty, in his dust and dimness,
with the sick body and the rusty coat: he made it do for him, like a
brave man. Not wholly without a loadstar in the Eternal; he had still
a loadstar, as the brave all need to have: with his eye set on that, he
would change his course for nothing in these confused vortices of the
lower sea of Time. "To the Spirit of Lies, bearing death and hunger, he
would in nowise strike his flag." Brave old Samuel: _ultimus Romanorum_!

Of Rousseau and his Heroism I cannot say so much. He is not what I
call a strong man. A morbid, excitable, spasmodic man; at best, intense
rather than strong. He had not "the talent of Silence," an invaluable
talent; which few Frenchmen, or indeed men of any sort in these times,
excel in! The suffering man ought really "to consume his own smoke;"
there is no good in emitting _smoke_ till you have made it into
_fire_,--which, in the metaphorical sense too, all smoke is capable
of becoming! Rousseau has not depth or width, not calm force for
difficulty; the first characteristic of true greatness. A fundamental
mistake to call vehemence and rigidity strength! A man is not strong who
takes convulsion-fits; though six men cannot hold him then. He that can
walk under the heaviest weight without staggering, he is the strong
man. We need forever, especially in these loud-shrieking days, to remind
ourselves of that. A man who cannot _hold his peace_, till the time come
for speaking and acting, is no right man.

Poor Rousseau's face is to me expressive of him. A high but narrow
contracted intensity in it: bony brows; deep, strait-set eyes, in
which there is something bewildered-looking,--bewildered, peering with
lynx-eagerness. A face full of misery, even ignoble misery, and also of
the antagonism against that; something mean, plebeian there, redeemed
only by _intensity_: the face of what is called a Fanatic,--a sadly
_contracted_ Hero! We name him here because, with all his drawbacks, and
they are many, he has the first and chief characteristic of a Hero: he
is heartily _in earnest_. In earnest, if ever man was; as none of these
French Philosophers were. Nay, one would say, of an earnestness too
great for his otherwise sensitive, rather feeble nature; and which
indeed in the end drove him into the strangest incoherences, almost
delirations. There had come, at last, to be a kind of madness in him:
his Ideas _possessed_ him like demons; hurried him so about, drove him
over steep places--!

The fault and misery of Rousseau was what we easily name by a single
word, _Egoism_; which is indeed the source and summary of all faults and
miseries whatsoever. He had not perfected himself into victory over mere
Desire; a mean Hunger, in many sorts, was still the motive principle of
him. I am afraid he was a very vain man; hungry for the praises of men.
You remember Genlis's experience of him. She took Jean Jacques to the
Theatre; he bargaining for a strict incognito,--"He would not be seen
there for the world!" The curtain did happen nevertheless to be drawn
aside: the Pit recognized Jean Jacques, but took no great notice of him!
He expressed the bitterest indignation; gloomed all evening, spake no
other than surly words. The glib Countess remained entirely convinced
that his anger was not at being seen, but at not being applauded
when seen. How the whole nature of the man is poisoned; nothing but
suspicion, self-isolation, fierce moody ways! He could not live with
anybody. A man of some rank from the country, who visited him often, and
used to sit with him, expressing all reverence and affection for him,
comes one day; finds Jean Jacques full of the sourest unintelligible
humor. "Monsieur," said Jean Jacques, with flaming eyes, "I know why you
come here. You come to see what a poor life I lead; how little is in my
poor pot that is boiling there. Well, look into the pot! There is half a
pound of meat, one carrot and three onions; that is all: go and tell the
whole world that, if you like, Monsieur!"--A man of this sort was far
gone. The whole world got itself supplied with anecdotes, for light
laughter, for a certain theatrical interest, from these perversions and
contortions of poor Jean Jacques. Alas, to him they were not laughing or
theatrical; too real to him! The contortions of a dying gladiator: the
crowded amphitheatre looks on with entertainment; but the gladiator is
in agonies and dying.

And yet this Rousseau, as we say, with his passionate appeals to
Mothers, with his _contrat-social_, with his celebrations of Nature,
even of savage life in Nature, did once more touch upon Reality,
struggle towards Reality; was doing the function of a Prophet to his
Time. As he could, and as the Time could! Strangely through all that
defacement, degradation and almost madness, there is in the inmost heart
of poor Rousseau a spark of real heavenly fire. Once more, out of
the element of that withered mocking Philosophism, Scepticism and
Persiflage, there has arisen in this man the ineradicable feeling and
knowledge that this Life of ours is true: not a Scepticism, Theorem,
or Persiflage, but a Fact, an awful Reality. Nature had made that
revelation to him; had ordered him to speak it out. He got it spoken
out; if not well and clearly, then ill and dimly,--as clearly as he
could. Nay what are all errors and perversities of his, even those
stealings of ribbons, aimless confused miseries and vagabondisms, if we
will interpret them kindly, but the blinkard dazzlement and staggerings
to and fro of a man sent on an errand he is too weak for, by a path he
cannot yet find? Men are led by strange ways. One should have tolerance
for a man, hope of him; leave him to try yet what he will do. While life
lasts, hope lasts for every man.

Of Rousseau's literary talents, greatly celebrated still among his
countrymen, I do not say much. His Books, like himself, are what I
call unhealthy; not the good sort of Books. There is a sensuality in
Rousseau. Combined with such an intellectual gift as his, it makes
pictures of a certain gorgeous attractiveness: but they are not
genuinely poetical. Not white sunlight: something _operatic_; a kind
of rose-pink, artificial bedizenment. It is frequent, or rather it
is universal, among the French since his time. Madame de Stael has
something of it; St. Pierre; and down onwards to the present astonishing
convulsionary "Literature of Desperation," it is everywhere abundant.
That same _rose-pink_ is not the right hue. Look at a Shakspeare, at a
Goethe, even at a Walter Scott! He who has once seen into this, has seen
the difference of the True from the Sham-True, and will discriminate
them ever afterwards.

We had to observe in Johnson how much good a Prophet, under all
disadvantages and disorganizations, can accomplish for the world. In
Rousseau we are called to look rather at the fearful amount of evil
which, under such disorganization, may accompany the good. Historically
it is a most pregnant spectacle, that of Rousseau. Banished into Paris
garrets, in the gloomy company of his own Thoughts and Necessities
there; driven from post to pillar; fretted, exasperated till the heart
of him went mad, he had grown to feel deeply that the world was not his
friend nor the world's law. It was expedient, if any way possible, that
such a man should _not_ have been set in flat hostility with the world.
He could be cooped into garrets, laughed at as a maniac, left to starve
like a wild beast in his cage;--but he could not be hindered from
setting the world on fire. The French Revolution found its Evangelist in
Rousseau. His semi-delirious speculations on the miseries of civilized
life, the preferability of the savage to the civilized, and such like,
helped well to produce a whole delirium in France generally. True, you
may well ask, What could the world, the governors of the world, do with
such a man? Difficult to say what the governors of the world could
do with him! What he could do with them is unhappily clear
enough,--_guillotine_ a great many of them! Enough now of Rousseau.

It was a curious phenomenon, in the withered, unbelieving second-hand
Eighteenth Century, that of a Hero starting up, among the artificial
pasteboard figures and productions, in the guise of a Robert Burns. Like
a little well in the rocky desert places,--like a sudden splendor of
Heaven in the artificial Vauxhall! People knew not what to make of
it. They took it for a piece of the Vauxhall fire-work; alas, it _let_
itself be so taken, though struggling half-blindly, as in bitterness of
death, against that! Perhaps no man had such a false reception from his
fellow-men. Once more a very wasteful life-drama was enacted under the

The tragedy of Burns's life is known to all of you. Surely we may
say, if discrepancy between place held and place merited constitute
perverseness of lot for a man, no lot could be more perverse then
Burns's. Among those second-hand acting-figures, _mimes_ for most part,
of the Eighteenth Century, once more a giant Original Man; one of those
men who reach down to the perennial Deeps, who take rank with the Heroic
among men: and he was born in a poor Ayrshire hut. The largest soul
of all the British lands came among us in the shape of a hard-handed
Scottish Peasant.

His Father, a poor toiling man, tried various things; did not succeed in
any; was involved in continual difficulties. The Steward, Factor as
the Scotch call him, used to send letters and threatenings, Burns says,
"which threw us all into tears." The brave, hard-toiling, hard-suffering
Father, his brave heroine of a wife; and those children, of whom Robert
was one! In this Earth, so wide otherwise, no shelter for _them_. The
letters "threw us all into tears:" figure it. The brave Father, I say
always;--a _silent_ Hero and Poet; without whom the son had never been
a speaking one! Burns's Schoolmaster came afterwards to London, learnt
what good society was; but declares that in no meeting of men did he
ever enjoy better discourse than at the hearth of this peasant. And his
poor "seven acres of nursery-ground,"--not that, nor the miserable patch
of clay-farm, nor anything he tried to get a living by, would prosper
with him; he had a sore unequal battle all his days. But he stood to
it valiantly; a wise, faithful, unconquerable man;--swallowing down
how many sore sufferings daily into silence; fighting like an unseen
Hero,--nobody publishing newspaper paragraphs about his nobleness;
voting pieces of plate to him! However, he was not lost; nothing
is lost. Robert is there the outcome of him,--and indeed of many
generations of such as him.

This Burns appeared under every disadvantage: uninstructed, poor, born
only to hard manual toil; and writing, when it came to that, in a rustic
special dialect, known only to a small province of the country he lived
in. Had he written, even what he did write, in the general language of
England, I doubt not he had already become universally recognized as
being, or capable to be, one of our greatest men. That he should have
tempted so many to penetrate through the rough husk of that dialect of
his, is proof that there lay something far from common within it. He
has gained a certain recognition, and is continuing to do so over all
quarters of our wide Saxon world: wheresoever a Saxon dialect is spoken,
it begins to be understood, by personal inspection of this and the
other, that one of the most considerable Saxon men of the Eighteenth
Century was an Ayrshire Peasant named Robert Burns. Yes, I will say,
here too was a piece of the right Saxon stuff: strong as the Harz-rock,
rooted in the depths of the world;--rock, yet with wells of living
softness in it! A wild impetuous whirlwind of passion and faculty
slumbered quiet there; such heavenly _melody_ dwelling in the heart of
it. A noble rough genuineness; homely, rustic, honest; true simplicity
of strength; with its lightning-fire, with its soft dewy pity;--like the
old Norse Thor, the Peasant-god!

Burns's Brother Gilbert, a man of much sense and worth, has told me that
Robert, in his young days, in spite of their hardship, was usually
the gayest of speech; a fellow of infinite frolic, laughter, sense and
heart; far pleasanter to hear there, stript cutting peats in the bog, or
such like, than he ever afterwards knew him. I can well believe it. This
basis of mirth ("_fond gaillard_," as old Marquis Mirabeau calls it), a
primal element of sunshine and joyfulness, coupled with his other deep
and earnest qualities, is one of the most attractive characteristics
of Burns. A large fund of Hope dwells in him; spite of his tragical
history, he is not a mourning man. He shakes his sorrows gallantly
aside; bounds forth victorious over them. It is as the lion shaking
"dew-drops from his mane;" as the swift-bounding horse, that _laughs_
at the shaking of the spear.--But indeed, Hope, Mirth, of the sort
like Burns's, are they not the outcome properly of warm generous
affection,--such as is the beginning of all to every man?

You would think it strange if I called Burns the most gifted British
soul we had in all that century of his: and yet I believe the day is
coming when there will be little danger in saying so. His writings, all
that he _did_ under such obstructions, are only a poor fragment of him.
Professor Stewart remarked very justly, what indeed is true of all Poets
good for much, that his poetry was not any particular faculty; but the
general result of a naturally vigorous original mind expressing itself
in that way. Burns's gifts, expressed in conversation, are the theme
of all that ever heard him. All kinds of gifts: from the gracefulest
utterances of courtesy, to the highest fire of passionate speech; loud
floods of mirth, soft wailings of affection, laconic emphasis, clear
piercing insight; all was in him. Witty duchesses celebrate him as a
man whose speech "led them off their feet." This is beautiful: but still
more beautiful that which Mr. Lockhart has recorded, which I have more
than once alluded to, How the waiters and ostlers at inns would get
out of bed, and come crowding to hear this man speak! Waiters and
ostlers:--they too were men, and here was a man! I have heard much about
his speech; but one of the best things I ever heard of it was, last
year, from a venerable gentleman long familiar with him. That it was
speech distinguished by always _having something in it_. "He spoke
rather little than much," this old man told me; "sat rather silent in
those early days, as in the company of persons above him; and always
when he did speak, it was to throw new light on the matter." I know not
why any one should ever speak otherwise!--But if we look at his
general force of soul, his healthy _robustness_ every way, the rugged
downrightness, penetration, generous valor and manfulness that was in
him,--where shall we readily find a better-gifted man?

Among the great men of the Eighteenth Century, I sometimes feel as if
Burns might be found to resemble Mirabeau more than any other. They
differ widely in vesture; yet look at them intrinsically. There is the
same burly thick-necked strength of body as of soul;--built, in both
cases, on what the old Marquis calls a _fond gaillard_. By nature, by
course of breeding, indeed by nation, Mirabeau has much more of bluster;
a noisy, forward, unresting man. But the characteristic of Mirabeau too
is veracity and sense, power of true _insight_, superiority of vision.
The thing that he says is worth remembering. It is a flash of insight
into some object or other: so do both these men speak. The same raging
passions; capable too in both of manifesting themselves as the tenderest
noble affections. Wit; wild laughter, energy, directness, sincerity:
these were in both. The types of the two men are not dissimilar. Burns
too could have governed, debated in National Assemblies; politicized, as
few could. Alas, the courage which had to exhibit itself in capture of
smuggling schooners in the Solway Frith; in keeping _silence_ over so
much, where no good speech, but only inarticulate rage was possible:
this might have bellowed forth Ushers de Breze and the like; and made
itself visible to all men, in managing of kingdoms, in ruling of great
ever-memorable epochs! But they said to him reprovingly, his Official
Superiors said, and wrote: "You are to work, not think." Of your
_thinking-faculty_, the greatest in this land, we have no need; you are
to gauge beer there; for that only are you wanted. Very notable;--and
worth mentioning, though we know what is to be said and answered! As if
Thought, Power of Thinking, were not, at all times, in all places and
situations of the world, precisely the thing that was wanted. The fatal
man, is he not always the unthinking man, the man who cannot think and
_see_; but only grope, and hallucinate, and _mis_see the nature of the
thing he works with? He mis-sees it, mis_takes_ it as we say; takes it
for one thing, and it _is_ another thing,--and leaves him standing like
a Futility there! He is the fatal man; unutterably fatal, put in the
high places of men.--"Why complain of this?" say some: "Strength is
mournfully denied its arena; that was true from of old." Doubtless;
and the worse for the _arena_, answer I! _Complaining_ profits little;
stating of the truth may profit. That a Europe, with its French
Revolution just breaking out, finds no need of a Burns except for
gauging beer,--is a thing I, for one, cannot _rejoice_ at--!

Once more we have to say here, that the chief quality of Burns is the
_sincerity_ of him. So in his Poetry, so in his Life. The song he sings
is not of fantasticalities; it is of a thing felt, really there; the
prime merit of this, as of all in him, and of his Life generally, is
truth. The Life of Burns is what we may call a great tragic sincerity. A
sort of savage sincerity,--not cruel, far from that; but wild, wrestling
naked with the truth of things. In that sense, there is something of the
savage in all great men.

Hero-worship,--Odin, Burns? Well; these Men of Letters too were not
without a kind of Hero-worship: but what a strange condition has that
got into now! The waiters and ostlers of Scotch inns, prying about
the door, eager to catch any word that fell from Burns, were doing
unconscious reverence to the Heroic. Johnson had his Boswell for
worshipper. Rousseau had worshippers enough; princes calling on him in
his mean garret; the great, the beautiful doing reverence to the poor
moon-struck man. For himself a most portentous contradiction; the two
ends of his life not to be brought into harmony. He sits at the tables
of grandees; and has to copy music for his own living. He cannot even
get his music copied: "By dint of dining out," says he, "I run the
risk of dying by starvation at home." For his worshippers too a most
questionable thing! If doing Hero-worship well or badly be the test of
vital well-being or ill-being to a generation, can we say that _these_
generations are very first-rate?--And yet our heroic Men of Letters
do teach, govern, are kings, priests, or what you like to call them;
intrinsically there is no preventing it by any means whatever. The world
has to obey him who thinks and sees in the world. The world can alter
the manner of that; can either have it as blessed continuous summer
sunshine, or as unblessed black thunder and tornado,--with unspeakable
difference of profit for the world! The manner of it is very alterable;
the matter and fact of it is not alterable by any power under the sky.
Light; or, failing that, lightning: the world can take its choice. Not
whether we call an Odin god, prophet, priest, or what we call him; but
whether we believe the word he tells us: there it all lies. If it be a
true word, we shall have to believe it; believing it, we shall have
to do it. What _name_ or welcome we give him or it, is a point that
concerns ourselves mainly. _It_, the new Truth, new deeper revealing of
the Secret of this Universe, is verily of the nature of a message from
on high; and must and will have itself obeyed.--

My last remark is on that notablest phasis of Burns's history,--his
visit to Edinburgh. Often it seems to me as if his demeanor there were
the highest proof he gave of what a fund of worth and genuine manhood
was in him. If we think of it, few heavier burdens could be laid on
the strength of a man. So sudden; all common _Lionism_. which ruins
innumerable men, was as nothing to this. It is as if Napoleon had
been made a King of, not gradually, but at once from the Artillery
Lieutenancy in the Regiment La Fere. Burns, still only in his
twenty-seventh year, is no longer even a ploughman; he is flying to the
West Indies to escape disgrace and a jail. This month he is a ruined
peasant, his wages seven pounds a year, and these gone from him: next
month he is in the blaze of rank and beauty, handing down jewelled
Duchesses to dinner; the cynosure of all eyes! Adversity is sometimes
hard upon a man; but for one man who can stand prosperity, there are a
hundred that will stand adversity. I admire much the way in which Burns
met all this. Perhaps no man one could point out, was ever so sorely
tried, and so little forgot himself. Tranquil, unastonished; not
abashed, not inflated, neither awkwardness nor affectation: he feels
that _he_ there is the man Robert Burns; that the "rank is but the
guinea-stamp;" that the celebrity is but the candle-light, which will
show _what_ man, not in the least make him a better or other man! Alas,
it may readily, unless he look to it, make him a _worse_ man; a wretched
inflated wind-bag,--inflated till he _burst_, and become a _dead_ lion;
for whom, as some one has said, "there is no resurrection of the body;"
worse than a living dog!--Burns is admirable here.

And yet, alas, as I have observed elsewhere, these Lion-hunters were the
ruin and death of Burns. It was they that rendered it impossible for him
to live! They gathered round him in his Farm; hindered his industry;
no place was remote enough from them. He could not get his Lionism
forgotten, honestly as he was disposed to do so. He falls into
discontents, into miseries, faults; the world getting ever more desolate
for him; health, character, peace of mind, all gone;--solitary enough
now. It is tragical to think of! These men came but to _see_ him; it was
out of no sympathy with him, nor no hatred to him. They came to get a
little amusement; they got their amusement;--and the Hero's life went
for it!

Richter says, in the Island of Sumatra there is a kind of
"Light-chafers," large Fire-flies, which people stick upon spits, and
illuminate the ways with at night. Persons of condition can thus travel
with a pleasant radiance, which they much admire. Great honor to the
Fire-flies! But--!


[May 22, 1840.]

We come now to the last form of Heroism; that which we call Kingship.
The Commander over Men; he to whose will our wills are to be
subordinated, and loyally surrender themselves, and find their welfare
in doing so, may be reckoned the most important of Great Men. He is
practically the summary for us of _all_ the various figures of Heroism;
Priest, Teacher, whatsoever of earthly or of spiritual dignity we can
fancy to reside in a man, embodies itself here, to _command_ over us, to
furnish us with constant practical teaching, to tell us for the day and
hour what we are to _do_. He is called _Rex_, Regulator, _Roi_: our own
name is still better; King, _Konning_, which means _Can_-ning, Able-man.

Numerous considerations, pointing towards deep, questionable, and indeed
unfathomable regions, present themselves here: on the most of which we
must resolutely for the present forbear to speak at all. As Burke said
that perhaps fair _Trial by Jury_ was the soul of Government, and that
all legislation, administration, parliamentary debating, and the rest
of it, went on, in "order to bring twelve impartial men into a
jury-box;"--so, by much stronger reason, may I say here, that the
finding of your _Ableman_ and getting him invested with the _symbols of
ability_, with dignity, worship (_worth_-ship), royalty, kinghood,
or whatever we call it, so that _he_ may actually have room to guide
according to his faculty of doing it,--is the business, well or
ill accomplished, of all social procedure whatsoever in this world!
Hustings-speeches, Parliamentary motions, Reform Bills, French
Revolutions, all mean at heart this; or else nothing. Find in any
country the Ablest Man that exists there; raise _him_ to the supreme
place, and loyally reverence him: you have a perfect government for
that country; no ballot-box, parliamentary eloquence, voting,
constitution-building, or other machinery whatsoever can improve it a
whit. It is in the perfect state; an ideal country. The Ablest Man; he
means also the truest-hearted, justest, the Noblest Man: what he _tells
us to do_ must be precisely the wisest, fittest, that we could anywhere
or anyhow learn;--the thing which it will in all ways behoove US, with
right loyal thankfulness and nothing doubting, to do! Our _doing_ and
life were then, so far as government could regulate it, well regulated;
that were the ideal of constitutions.

Alas, we know very well that Ideals can never be completely embodied in
practice. Ideals must ever lie a very great way off; and we will right
thankfully content ourselves with any not intolerable approximation
thereto! Let no man, as Schiller says, too querulously "measure by a
scale of perfection the meagre product of reality" in this poor world
of ours. We will esteem him no wise man; we will esteem him a sickly,
discontented, foolish man. And yet, on the other hand, it is never to be
forgotten that Ideals do exist; that if they be not approximated to at
all, the whole matter goes to wreck! Infallibly. No bricklayer builds a
wall _perfectly_ perpendicular, mathematically this is not possible;
a certain degree of perpendicularity suffices him; and he, like a good
bricklayer, who must have done with his job, leaves it so. And yet if he
sway _too much_ from the perpendicular; above all, if he throw plummet
and level quite away from him, and pile brick on brick heedless, just
as it comes to hand--! Such bricklayer, I think, is in a bad way. He has
forgotten himself: but the Law of Gravitation does not forget to act on
him; he and his wall rush down into confused welter of ruin--!

This is the history of all rebellions, French Revolutions, social
explosions in ancient or modern times. You have put the too _Un_able
Man at the head of affairs! The too ignoble, unvaliant, fatuous man. You
have forgotten that there is any rule, or natural necessity whatever, of
putting the Able Man there. Brick must lie on brick as it may and can.
Unable Simulacrum of Ability, _quack_, in a word, must adjust himself
with quack, in all manner of administration of human things;--which
accordingly lie unadministered, fermenting into unmeasured masses
of failure, of indigent misery: in the outward, and in the inward or
spiritual, miserable millions stretch out the hand for their due supply,
and it is not there. The "law of gravitation" acts; Nature's laws do
none of them forget to act. The miserable millions burst forth into
Sansculottism, or some other sort of madness: bricks and bricklayer lie
as a fatal chaos--!

Much sorry stuff, written some hundred years ago or more, about the
"Divine right of Kings," moulders unread now in the Public Libraries of
this country. Far be it from us to disturb the calm process by which it
is disappearing harmlessly from the earth, in those repositories! At the
same time, not to let the immense rubbish go without leaving us, as it
ought, some soul of it behind--I will say that it did mean something;
something true, which it is important for us and all men to keep in
mind. To assert that in whatever man you chose to lay hold of (by this
or the other plan of clutching at him); and claps a round piece of metal
on the head of, and called King,--there straightway came to reside
a divine virtue, so that _he_ became a kind of god, and a Divinity
inspired him with faculty and right to rule over you to all lengths:
this,--what can we do with this but leave it to rot silently in
the Public Libraries? But I will say withal, and that is what these
Divine-right men meant, That in Kings, and in all human Authorities,
and relations that men god-created can form among each other, there is
verily either a Divine Right or else a Diabolic Wrong; one or the
other of these two! For it is false altogether, what the last Sceptical
Century taught us, that this world is a steam-engine. There is a God in
this world; and a God's-sanction, or else the violation of such, does
look out from all ruling and obedience, from all moral acts of men.
There is no act more moral between men than that of rule and obedience.
Woe to him that claims obedience when it is not due; woe to him
that refuses it when it is! God's law is in that, I say, however the
Parchment-laws may run: there is a Divine Right or else a Diabolic Wrong
at the heart of every claim that one man makes upon another.

It can do none of us harm to reflect on this: in all the relations of
life it will concern us; in Loyalty and Royalty, the highest of these. I
esteem the modern error, That all goes by self-interest and the checking
and balancing of greedy knaveries, and that in short, there is nothing
divine whatever in the association of men, a still more despicable
error, natural as it is to an unbelieving century, than that of a
"divine right" in people _called_ Kings. I say, Find me the true
_Konning_, King, or Able-man, and he _has_ a divine right over me. That
we knew in some tolerable measure how to find him, and that all men were
ready to acknowledge his divine right when found: this is precisely the
healing which a sick world is everywhere, in these ages, seeking after!
The true King, as guide of the practical, has ever something of the
Pontiff in him,--guide of the spiritual, from which all practice has
its rise. This too is a true saying, That the _King_ is head of the
_Church_.--But we will leave the Polemic stuff of a dead century to lie
quiet on its bookshelves.

Certainly it is a fearful business, that of having your Ableman to
_seek_, and not knowing in what manner to proceed about it! That is
the world's sad predicament in these times of ours. They are times
of revolution, and have long been. The bricklayer with his bricks,
no longer heedful of plummet or the law of gravitation, have toppled,
tumbled, and it all welters as we see! But the beginning of it was not
the French Revolution; that is rather the _end_, we can hope. It were
truer to say, the _beginning_ was three centuries farther back: in
the Reformation of Luther. That the thing which still called itself
Christian Church had become a Falsehood, and brazenly went about
pretending to pardon men's sins for metallic coined money, and to do
much else which in the everlasting truth of Nature it did _not_ now do:
here lay the vital malady. The inward being wrong, all outward went ever
more and more wrong. Belief died away; all was Doubt, Disbelief. The
builder cast _away_ his plummet; said to himself, "What is gravitation?
Brick lies on brick there!" Alas, does it not still sound strange to
many of us, the assertion that there _is_ a God's-truth in the business
of god-created men; that all is not a kind of grimace, an "expediency,"
diplomacy, one knows not what--!

From that first necessary assertion of Luther's, "You, self-styled
_Papa_, you are no Father in God at all; you are--a Chimera, whom I know
not how to name in polite language!"--from that onwards to the shout
which rose round Camille Desmoulins in the Palais-Royal, "_Aux armes_!"
when the people had burst up against _all_ manner of Chimeras,--I find
a natural historical sequence. That shout too, so frightful,
half-infernal, was a great matter. Once more the voice of awakened
nations;--starting confusedly, as out of nightmare, as out of
death-sleep, into some dim feeling that Life was real; that God's-world
was not an expediency and diplomacy! Infernal;--yes, since they would
not have it otherwise. Infernal, since not celestial or terrestrial!
Hollowness, insincerity _has_ to cease; sincerity of some sort has to
begin. Cost what it may, reigns of terror, horrors of French Revolution
or what else, we have to return to truth. Here is a Truth, as I said: a
Truth clad in hell-fire, since they would not but have it so--!

A common theory among considerable parties of men in England and
elsewhere used to be, that the French Nation had, in those days, as
it were gone _mad_; that the French Revolution was a general act of
insanity, a temporary conversion of France and large sections of the
world into a kind of Bedlam. The Event had risen and raged; but was a
madness and nonentity,--gone now happily into the region of Dreams and
the Picturesque!--To such comfortable philosophers, the Three Days of
July, 1830, must have been a surprising phenomenon. Here is the French
Nation risen again, in musketry and death-struggle, out shooting and
being shot, to make that same mad French Revolution good! The sons and
grandsons of those men, it would seem, persist in the enterprise: they
do not disown it; they will have it made good; will have themselves
shot, if it be not made good. To philosophers who had made up their
life-system, on that "madness" quietus, no phenomenon could be more
alarming. Poor Niebuhr, they say, the Prussian Professor and Historian,
fell broken-hearted in consequence; sickened, if we can believe it, and
died of the Three Days! It was surely not a very heroic death;--little
better than Racine's, dying because Louis Fourteenth looked sternly on
him once. The world had stood some considerable shocks, in its time;
might have been expected to survive the Three Days too, and be found
turning on its axis after even them! The Three Days told all mortals
that the old French Revolution, mad as it might look, was not a
transitory ebullition of Bedlam, but a genuine product of this Earth
where we all live; that it was verily a Fact, and that the world in
general would do well everywhere to regard it as such.

Truly, without the French Revolution, one would not know what to make
of an age like this at all. We will hail the French Revolution, as
shipwrecked mariners might the sternest rock, in a world otherwise all
of baseless sea and waves. A true Apocalypse, though a terrible one, to
this false withered artificial time; testifying once more that Nature
is _preter_natural; if not divine, then diabolic; that Semblance is
not Reality; that it has to become Reality, or the world will take fire
under it,--burn _it_ into what it is, namely Nothing! Plausibility has
ended; empty Routine has ended; much has ended. This, as with a Trump of
Doom, has been proclaimed to all men. They are the wisest who will
learn it soonest. Long confused generations before it be learned; peace
impossible till it be! The earnest man, surrounded, as ever, with a
world of inconsistencies, can await patiently, patiently strive to do
_his_ work, in the midst of that. Sentence of Death is written down
in Heaven against all that; sentence of Death is now proclaimed on the
Earth against it: this he with his eyes may see. And surely, I
should say, considering the other side of the matter, what enormous
difficulties lie there, and how fast, fearfully fast, in all countries,
the inexorable demand for solution of them is pressing on,--he may
easily find other work to do than laboring in the Sansculottic province
at this time of day!

To me, in these circumstances, that of "Hero-worship" becomes a fact
inexpressibly precious; the most solacing fact one sees in the world at
present. There is an everlasting hope in it for the management of the
world. Had all traditions, arrangements, creeds, societies that men ever
instituted, sunk away, this would remain. The certainty of Heroes being
sent us; our faculty, our necessity, to reverence Heroes when sent: it
shines like a polestar through smoke-clouds, dust-clouds, and all manner
of down-rushing and conflagration.

Hero-worship would have sounded very strange to those workers and
fighters in the French Revolution. Not reverence for Great Men; not any
hope or belief, or even wish, that Great Men could again appear in the
world! Nature, turned into a "Machine," was as if effete now; could not
any longer produce Great Men:--I can tell her, she may give up the trade
altogether, then; we cannot do without Great Men!--But neither have I
any quarrel with that of "Liberty and Equality;" with the faith that,
wise great men being impossible, a level immensity of foolish small
men would suffice. It was a natural faith then and there. "Liberty and
Equality; no Authority needed any longer. Hero-worship, reverence for
_such_ Authorities, has proved false, is itself a falsehood; no more
of it! We have had such _forgeries_, we will now trust nothing. So
many base plated coins passing in the market, the belief has now become
common that no gold any longer exists,--and even that we can do very
well without gold!" I find this, among other things, in that universal
cry of Liberty and Equality; and find it very natural, as matters then

And yet surely it is but the _transition_ from false to true. Considered
as the whole truth, it is false altogether;--the product of entire
sceptical blindness, as yet only _struggling_ to see. Hero-worship
exists forever, and everywhere: not Loyalty alone; it extends from
divine adoration down to the lowest practical regions of life. "Bending
before men," if it is not to be a mere empty grimace, better dispensed
with than practiced, is Hero-worship,--a recognition that there does
dwell in that presence of our brother something divine; that every
created man, as Novalis said, is a "revelation in the Flesh." They were
Poets too, that devised all those graceful courtesies which make life
noble! Courtesy is not a falsehood or grimace; it need not be such.
And Loyalty, religious Worship itself, are still possible; nay still

May we not say, moreover, while so many of our late Heroes have worked
rather as revolutionary men, that nevertheless every Great Man, every
genuine man, is by the nature of him a son of Order, not of Disorder? It
is a tragical position for a true man to work in revolutions. He seems
an anarchist; and indeed a painful element of anarchy does encumber him
at every step,--him to whose whole soul anarchy is hostile, hateful.
His mission is Order; every man's is. He is here to make what was
disorderly, chaotic, into a thing ruled, regular. He is the missionary
of Order. Is not all work of man in this world a _making of Order_? The
carpenter finds rough trees; shapes them, constrains them into square
fitness, into purpose and use. We are all born enemies of Disorder:
it is tragical for us all to be concerned in image-breaking and
down-pulling; for the Great Man, _more_ a man than we, it is doubly

Thus too all human things, maddest French Sansculottisms, do and must
work towards Order. I say, there is not a _man_ in them, raging in the
thickest of the madness, but is impelled withal, at all moments, towards
Order. His very life means that; Disorder is dissolution, death. No
chaos but it seeks a _centre_ to revolve round. While man is
man, some Cromwell or Napoleon is the necessary finish of a
Sansculottism.--Curious: in those days when Hero-worship was the most
incredible thing to every one, how it does come out nevertheless, and
assert itself practically, in a way which all have to credit. Divine
_right_, take it on the great scale, is found to mean divine _might_
withal! While old false Formulas are getting trampled everywhere into
destruction, new genuine Substances unexpectedly unfold themselves
indestructible. In rebellious ages, when Kingship itself seems dead and
abolished, Cromwell, Napoleon step forth again as Kings. The history of
these men is what we have now to look at, as our last phasis of Heroism.
The old ages are brought back to us; the manner in which Kings were
made, and Kingship itself first took rise, is again exhibited in the
history of these Two.

We have had many civil wars in England; wars of Red and White Roses,
wars of Simon de Montfort; wars enough, which are not very memorable.
But that war of the Puritans has a significance which belongs to no one
of the others. Trusting to your candor, which will suggest on the other
side what I have not room to say, I will call it a section once more of
that great universal war which alone makes up the true History of the
World,--the war of Belief against Unbelief! The struggle of men intent
on the real essence of things, against men intent on the semblances and
forms of things. The Puritans, to many, seem mere savage Iconoclasts,
fierce destroyers of Forms; but it were more just to call them haters of
_untrue_ Forms. I hope we know how to respect Laud and his King as well
as them. Poor Laud seems to me to have been weak and ill-starred, not
dishonest an unfortunate Pedant rather than anything worse. His "Dreams"
and superstitions, at which they laugh so, have an affectionate, lovable
kind of character. He is like a College-Tutor, whose whole world is
forms, College-rules; whose notion is that these are the life and safety
of the world. He is placed suddenly, with that unalterable luckless
notion of his, at the head not of a College but of a Nation, to regulate
the most complex deep-reaching interests of men. He thinks they ought to
go by the old decent regulations; nay that their salvation will lie in
extending and improving these. Like a weak man, he drives with spasmodic
vehemence towards his purpose; cramps himself to it, heeding no voice of
prudence, no cry of pity: He will have his College-rules obeyed by his
Collegians; that first; and till that, nothing. He is an ill-starred
Pedant, as I said. He would have it the world was a College of that
kind, and the world was _not_ that. Alas, was not his doom stern enough?
Whatever wrongs he did, were they not all frightfully avenged on him?

It is meritorious to insist on forms; Religion and all else naturally
clothes itself in forms. Everywhere the _formed_ world is the only
habitable one. The naked formlessness of Puritanism is not the thing
I praise in the Puritans; it is the thing I pity,--praising only
the spirit which had rendered that inevitable! All substances clothe
themselves in forms: but there are suitable true forms, and then there
are untrue unsuitable. As the briefest definition, one might say, Forms
which _grow_ round a substance, if we rightly understand that, will
correspond to the real nature and purport of it, will be true, good;
forms which are consciously _put_ round a substance, bad. I invite you
to reflect on this. It distinguishes true from false in Ceremonial Form,
earnest solemnity from empty pageant, in all human things.

There must be a veracity, a natural spontaneity in forms. In the
commonest meeting of men, a person making, what we call, "set speeches,"
is not he an offence? In the mere drawing-room, whatsoever courtesies
you see to be grimaces, prompted by no spontaneous reality within, are a
thing you wish to get away from. But suppose now it were some matter
of vital concernment, some transcendent matter (as Divine Worship is),
about which your whole soul, struck dumb with its excess of feeling,
knew not how to _form_ itself into utterance at all, and preferred
formless silence to any utterance there possible,--what should we say
of a man coming forward to represent or utter it for you in the way of
upholsterer-mummery? Such a man,--let him depart swiftly, if he love
himself! You have lost your only son; are mute, struck down, without
even tears: an importunate man importunately offers to celebrate Funeral
Games for him in the manner of the Greeks! Such mummery is not only not
to be accepted,--it is hateful, unendurable. It is what the old Prophets
called "Idolatry," worshipping of hollow _shows_; what all earnest men
do and will reject. We can partly understand what those poor Puritans
meant. Laud dedicating that St. Catherine Creed's Church, in the
manner we have it described; with his multiplied ceremonial bowings,
gesticulations, exclamations: surely it is rather the rigorous formal
Pedant, intent on his "College-rules," than the earnest Prophet intent
on the essence of the matter!

Puritanism found _such_ forms insupportable; trampled on such forms;--we
have to excuse it for saying, No form at all rather than such! It stood
preaching in its bare pulpit, with nothing but the Bible in its hand.
Nay, a man preaching from his earnest _soul_ into the earnest _souls_ of
men: is not this virtually the essence of all Churches whatsoever?
The nakedest, savagest reality, I say, is preferable to any semblance,
however dignified. Besides, it will clothe itself with _due_ semblance
by and by, if it be real. No fear of that; actually no fear at all.
Given the living _man_, there will be found _clothes_ for him; he will
find himself clothes. But the suit-of-clothes pretending that _it_ is
both clothes and man--! We cannot "fight the French" by three hundred
thousand red uniforms; there must be _men_ in the inside of them!
Semblance, I assert, must actually _not_ divorce itself from Reality.
If Semblance do,--why then there must be men found to rebel against
Semblance, for it has become a lie! These two Antagonisms at war here,
in the case of Laud and the Puritans, are as old nearly as the world.
They went to fierce battle over England in that age; and fought out
their confused controversy to a certain length, with many results for
all of us.

In the age which directly followed that of the Puritans, their cause or
themselves were little likely to have justice done them. Charles Second
and his Rochesters were not the kind of men you would set to judge what
the worth or meaning of such men might have been. That there could be
any faith or truth in the life of a man, was what these poor Rochesters,
and the age they ushered in, had forgotten. Puritanism was hung on
gibbets,--like the bones of the leading Puritans. Its work nevertheless
went on accomplishing itself. All true work of a man, hang the author of
it on what gibbet you like, must and will accomplish itself. We have our
_Habeas-Corpus_, our free Representation of the People; acknowledgment,
wide as the world, that all men are, or else must, shall, and will
become, what we call _free_ men;--men with their life grounded on
reality and justice, not on tradition, which has become unjust and
a chimera! This in part, and much besides this, was the work of the

And indeed, as these things became gradually manifest, the character
of the Puritans began to clear itself. Their memories were, one after
another, taken _down_ from the gibbet; nay a certain portion of them
are now, in these days, as good as canonized. Eliot, Hampden, Pym, nay
Ludlow, Hutchinson, Vane himself, are admitted to be a kind of Heroes;
political Conscript Fathers, to whom in no small degree we owe what
makes us a free England: it would not be safe for anybody to designate
these men as wicked now. Few Puritans of note but find their apologists
somewhere, and have a certain reverence paid them by earnest men. One
Puritan, I think, and almost he alone, our poor Cromwell, seems to hang
yet on the gibbet, and find no hearty apologist anywhere. Him neither
saint nor sinner will acquit of great wickedness. A man of ability,
infinite talent, courage, and so forth: but he betrayed the Cause.
Selfish ambition, dishonesty, duplicity; a fierce, coarse, hypocritical
_Tartuffe_; turning all that noble Struggle for constitutional Liberty
into a sorry farce played for his own benefit: this and worse is the
character they give of Cromwell. And then there come contrasts with
Washington and others; above all, with these noble Pyms and Hampdens,
whose noble work he stole for himself, and ruined into a futility and

This view of Cromwell seems to me the not unnatural product of a century
like the Eighteenth. As we said of the Valet, so of the Sceptic: He does
not know a Hero when he sees him! The Valet expected purple mantles,
gilt sceptres, bodyguards and flourishes of trumpets: the Sceptic of
the Eighteenth century looks for regulated respectable Formulas,
"Principles," or what else he may call them; a style of speech and
conduct which has got to seem "respectable," which can plead for
itself in a handsome articulate manner, and gain the suffrages of an
enlightened sceptical Eighteenth century! It is, at bottom, the
same thing that both the Valet and he expect: the garnitures of some
_acknowledged_ royalty, which _then_ they will acknowledge! The King
coming to them in the rugged _un_formulistic state shall be no King.

For my own share, far be it from me to say or insinuate a word of
disparagement against such characters as Hampden, Elliot, Pym; whom I
believe to have been right worthy and useful men. I have read diligently
what books and documents about them I could come at;--with the honestest
wish to admire, to love and worship them like Heroes; but I am sorry to
say, if the real truth must be told, with very indifferent success! At
bottom, I found that it would not do. They are very noble men, these;
step along in their stately way, with their measured euphemisms,
philosophies, parliamentary eloquences, Ship-moneys, _Monarchies of
Man_; a most constitutional, unblamable, dignified set of men. But the
heart remains cold before them; the fancy alone endeavors to get up some
worship of them. What man's heart does, in reality, break forth into any
fire of brotherly love for these men? They are become dreadfully dull
men! One breaks down often enough in the constitutional eloquence of the
admirable Pym, with his "seventhly and lastly." You find that it may
be the admirablest thing in the world, but that it is heavy,--heavy as
lead, barren as brick-clay; that, in a word, for you there is little or
nothing now surviving there! One leaves all these Nobilities standing
in their niches of honor: the rugged outcast Cromwell, he is the man
of them all in whom one still finds human stuff. The great savage
_Baresark_: he could write no euphemistic _Monarchy of Man_; did not
speak, did not work with glib regularity; had no straight story to
tell for himself anywhere. But he stood bare, not cased in euphemistic
coat-of-mail; he grappled like a giant, face to face, heart to heart,
with the naked truth of things! That, after all, is the sort of man for
one. I plead guilty to valuing such a man beyond all other sorts of men.
Smooth-shaven Respectabilities not a few one finds, that are not good
for much. Small thanks to a man for keeping his hands clean, who would
not touch the work but with gloves on!

Neither, on the whole, does this constitutional tolerance of the
Eighteenth century for the other happier Puritans seem to be a very
great matter. One might say, it is but a piece of Formulism and
Scepticism, like the rest. They tell us, It was a sorrowful thing to
consider that the foundation of our English Liberties should have been
laid by "Superstition." These Puritans came forward with Calvinistic
incredible Creeds, Anti-Laudisms, Westminster Confessions; demanding,
chiefly of all, that they should have liberty to _worship_ in their own
way. Liberty to _tax_ themselves: that was the thing they should have
demanded! It was Superstition, Fanaticism, disgraceful ignorance of
Constitutional Philosophy to insist on the other thing!--Liberty to
_tax_ oneself? Not to pay out money from your pocket except on reason
shown? No century, I think, but a rather barren one would have fixed on
that as the first right of man! I should say, on the contrary, A just
man will generally have better cause than _money_ in what shape soever,
before deciding to revolt against his Government. Ours is a most
confused world; in which a good man will be thankful to see any kind of
Government maintain itself in a not insupportable manner: and here in
England, to this hour, if he is not ready to pay a great many taxes
which he can see very small reason in, it will not go well with him, I
think! He must try some other climate than this. Tax-gatherer? Money?
He will say: "Take my money, since you _can_, and it is so desirable to
you; take it,--and take yourself away with it; and leave me alone to my
work here. I am still here; can still work, after all the money you have
taken from me!" But if they come to him, and say, "Acknowledge a Lie;
pretend to say you are worshipping God, when you are not doing it:
believe not the thing that you find true, but the thing that I find, or
pretend to find true!" He will answer: "No; by God's help, no! You may
take my purse; but I cannot have my moral Self annihilated. The purse is
any Highwayman's who might meet me with a loaded pistol: but the Self is
mine and God my Maker's; it is not yours; and I will resist you to the
death, and revolt against you, and, on the whole, front all manner of
extremities, accusations and confusions, in defence of that!"--

Really, it seems to me the one reason which could justify revolting,
this of the Puritans. It has been the soul of all just revolts among
men. Not _Hunger_ alone produced even the French Revolution; no, but
the feeling of the insupportable all-pervading _Falsehood_ which had now
embodied itself in Hunger, in universal material Scarcity and Nonentity,
and thereby become _indisputably_ false in the eyes of all! We will
leave the Eighteenth century with its "liberty to tax itself." We will
not astonish ourselves that the meaning of such men as the Puritans
remained dim to it. To men who believe in no reality at all, how shall a
_real_ human soul, the intensest of all realities, as it were the Voice
of this world's Maker still speaking to us,--be intelligible? What it
cannot reduce into constitutional doctrines relative to "taxing," or
other the like material interest, gross, palpable to the sense, such
a century will needs reject as an amorphous heap of rubbish. Hampdens,
Pyms and Ship-money will be the theme of much constitutional eloquence,
striving to be fervid;--which will glitter, if not as fire does, then
as ice does: and the irreducible Cromwell will remain a chaotic mass of
"madness," "hypocrisy," and much else.

From of old, I will confess, this theory of Cromwell's falsity has
been incredible to me. Nay I cannot believe the like, of any Great Man
whatever. Multitudes of Great Men figure in History as false selfish
men; but if we will consider it, they are but _figures_ for us,
unintelligible shadows; we do not see into them as men that could have
existed at all. A superficial unbelieving generation only, with no eye
but for the surfaces and semblances of things, could form such notions
of Great Men. Can a great soul be possible without a _conscience_ in it,
the essence of all _real_ souls, great or small?--No, we cannot figure
Cromwell as a Falsity and Fatuity; the longer I study him and his
career, I believe this the less. Why should we? There is no evidence of
it. Is it not strange that, after all the mountains of calumny this
man has been subject to, after being represented as the very prince of
liars, who never, or hardly ever, spoke truth, but always some cunning
counterfeit of truth, there should not yet have been one falsehood
brought clearly home to him? A prince of liars, and no lie spoken by
him. Not one that I could yet get sight of. It is like Pococke asking
Grotius, Where is your _proof_ of Mahomet's Pigeon? No proof!--Let us
leave all these calumnious chimeras, as chimeras ought to be left. They
are not portraits of the man; they are distracted phantasms of him, the
joint product of hatred and darkness.

Looking at the man's life with our own eyes, it seems to me, a very
different hypothesis suggests itself. What little we know of his earlier
obscure years, distorted as it has come down to us, does it not all
betoken an earnest, affectionate, sincere kind of man? His nervous
melancholic temperament indicates rather a seriousness _too_ deep for
him. Of those stories of "Spectres;" of the white Spectre in broad
daylight, predicting that he should be King of England, we are not bound
to believe much;--probably no more than of the other black Spectre,
or Devil in person, to whom the Officer _saw_ him sell himself before
Worcester Fight! But the mournful, oversensitive, hypochondriac humor
of Oliver, in his young years, is otherwise indisputably known. The
Huntingdon Physician told Sir Philip Warwick himself, He had often been
sent for at midnight; Mr. Cromwell was full of hypochondria, thought
himself near dying, and "had fancies about the Town-cross." These things
are significant. Such an excitable deep-feeling nature, in that rugged
stubborn strength of his, is not the symptom of falsehood; it is the
symptom and promise of quite other than falsehood!

The young Oliver is sent to study Law; falls, or is said to have fallen,
for a little period, into some of the dissipations of youth; but if
so, speedily repents, abandons all this: not much above twenty, he is
married, settled as an altogether grave and quiet man. "He pays back
what money he had won at gambling," says the story;--he does not think
any gain of that kind could be really _his_. It is very interesting,
very natural, this "conversion," as they well name it; this awakening of
a great true soul from the worldly slough, to see into the awful _truth_
of things;--to see that Time and its shows all rested on Eternity, and
this poor Earth of ours was the threshold either of Heaven or of Hell!
Oliver's life at St. Ives and Ely, as a sober industrious Farmer, is it
not altogether as that of a true and devout man? He has renounced the
world and its ways; _its_ prizes are not the thing that can enrich him.
He tills the earth; he reads his Bible; daily assembles his servants
round him to worship God. He comforts persecuted ministers, is fond of
preachers; nay can himself preach,--exhorts his neighbors to be wise,
to redeem the time. In all this what "hypocrisy," "ambition," "cant,"
or other falsity? The man's hopes, I do believe, were fixed on the other
Higher World; his aim to get well _thither_, by walking well through his
humble course in _this_ world. He courts no notice: what could notice
here do for him? "Ever in his great Taskmaster's eye."

It is striking, too, how he comes out once into public view; he, since
no other is willing to come: in resistance to a public grievance. I
mean, in that matter of the Bedford Fens. No one else will go to law
with Authority; therefore he will. That matter once settled, he returns
back into obscurity, to his Bible and his Plough. "Gain influence"? His
influence is the most legitimate; derived from personal knowledge of
him, as a just, religious, reasonable and determined man. In this way
he has lived till past forty; old age is now in view of him, and the
earnest portal of Death and Eternity; it was at this point that he
suddenly became "ambitious"! I do not interpret his Parliamentary
mission in that way!

His successes in Parliament, his successes through the war, are honest
successes of a brave man; who has more resolution in the heart of him,
more light in the head of him than other men. His prayers to God; his
spoken thanks to the God of Victory, who had preserved him safe, and
carried him forward so far, through the furious clash of a world all set
in conflict, through desperate-looking envelopments at Dunbar; through
the death-hail of so many battles; mercy after mercy; to the "crowning
mercy" of Worcester Fight: all this is good and genuine for a
deep-hearted Calvinistic Cromwell. Only to vain unbelieving Cavaliers,
worshipping not God but their own "love-locks," frivolities and
formalities, living quite apart from contemplations of God, living
_without_ God in the world, need it seem hypocritical.

Nor will his participation in the King's death involve him in
condemnation with us. It is a stern business killing of a King! But if
you once go to war with him, it lies _there_; this and all else lies
there. Once at war, you have made wager of battle with him: it is he to
die, or else you. Reconciliation is problematic; may be possible, or,
far more likely, is impossible. It is now pretty generally admitted that
the Parliament, having vanquished Charles First, had no way of making
any tenable arrangement with him. The large Presbyterian party,
apprehensive now of the Independents, were most anxious to do so;
anxious indeed as for their own existence; but it could not be. The
unhappy Charles, in those final Hampton-Court negotiations, shows
himself as a man fatally incapable of being dealt with. A man who, once
for all, could not and would not _understand_:--whose thought did not
in any measure represent to him the real fact of the matter; nay worse,
whose _word_ did not at all represent his thought. We may say this
of him without cruelty, with deep pity rather: but it is true and
undeniable. Forsaken there of all but the _name_ of Kingship, he still,
finding himself treated with outward respect as a King, fancied that
he might play off party against party, and smuggle himself into his
old power by deceiving both. Alas, they both _discovered_ that he was
deceiving them. A man whose _word_ will not inform you at all what he
means or will do, is not a man you can bargain with. You must get out
of that man's way, or put him out of yours! The Presbyterians, in
their despair, were still for believing Charles, though found false,
unbelievable again and again. Not so Cromwell: "For all our fighting,"
says he, "we are to have a little bit of paper?" No--!

In fact, everywhere we have to note the decisive practical _eye_ of this
man; how he drives towards the practical and practicable; has a genuine
insight into what _is_ fact. Such an intellect, I maintain, does not
belong to a false man: the false man sees false shows, plausibilities,
expediences: the true man is needed to discern even practical truth.
Cromwell's advice about the Parliament's Army, early in the contest, How
they were to dismiss their city-tapsters, flimsy riotous persons, and
choose substantial yeomen, whose heart was in the work, to be soldiers
for them: this is advice by a man who _saw_. Fact answers, if you see
into Fact! Cromwell's _Ironsides_ were the embodiment of this insight of
his; men fearing God; and without any other fear. No more conclusively
genuine set of fighters ever trod the soil of England, or of any other

Neither will we blame greatly that word of Cromwell's to them; which
was so blamed: "If the King should meet me in battle, I would kill the
King." Why not? These words were spoken to men who stood as before a
Higher than Kings. They had set more than their own lives on the cast.
The Parliament may call it, in official language, a fighting "_for_ the
King;" but we, for our share, cannot understand that. To us it is no
dilettante work, no sleek officiality; it is sheer rough death and
earnest. They have brought it to the calling-forth of War; horrid
internecine fight, man grappling with man in fire-eyed rage,--the
_infernal_ element in man called forth, to try it by that! _Do_ that
therefore; since that is the thing to be done.--The successes of
Cromwell seem to me a very natural thing! Since he was not shot in
battle, they were an inevitable thing. That such a man, with the eye
to see, with the heart to dare, should advance, from post to post, from
victory to victory, till the Huntingdon Farmer became, by whatever name
you might call him, the acknowledged Strongest Man in England, virtually
the King of England, requires no magic to explain it--!

Truly it is a sad thing for a people, as for a man, to fall into
Scepticism, into dilettantism, insincerity; not to know Sincerity when
they see it. For this world, and for all worlds, what curse is so fatal?
The heart lying dead, the eye cannot see. What intellect remains is
merely the _vulpine_ intellect. That a true _King_ be sent them is of
small use; they do not know him when sent. They say scornfully, Is this
your King? The Hero wastes his heroic faculty in bootless contradiction
from the unworthy; and can accomplish little. For himself he does
accomplish a heroic life, which is much, which is all; but for the world
he accomplishes comparatively nothing. The wild rude Sincerity, direct
from Nature, is not glib in answering from the witness-box: in your
small-debt _pie-powder_ court, he is scouted as a counterfeit. The
vulpine intellect "detects" him. For being a man worth any thousand
men, the response your Knox, your Cromwell gets, is an argument for two
centuries whether he was a man at all. God's greatest gift to this Earth
is sneeringly flung away. The miraculous talisman is a paltry plated
coin, not fit to pass in the shops as a common guinea.

Lamentable this! I say, this must be remedied. Till this be remedied in
some measure, there is nothing remedied. "Detect quacks"? Yes do, for
Heaven's sake; but know withal the men that are to be trusted! Till
we know that, what is all our knowledge; how shall we even so much
as "detect"? For the vulpine sharpness, which considers itself to be
knowledge, and "detects" in that fashion, is far mistaken. Dupes indeed
are many: but, of all _dupes_, there is none so fatally situated as
he who lives in undue terror of being duped. The world does exist; the
world has truth in it, or it would not exist! First recognize what is
true, we shall _then_ discern what is false; and properly never till

"Know the men that are to be trusted:" alas, this is yet, in these days,
very far from us. The sincere alone can recognize sincerity. Not a Hero
only is needed, but a world fit for him; a world not of _Valets_;--the
Hero comes almost in vain to it otherwise! Yes, it is far from us: but
it must come; thank God, it is visibly coming. Till it do come, what
have we? Ballot-boxes, suffrages, French Revolutions:--if we are as
Valets, and do not know the Hero when we see him, what good are all
these? A heroic Cromwell comes; and for a hundred and fifty years he
cannot have a vote from us. Why, the insincere, unbelieving world is
the _natural property_ of the Quack, and of the Father of quacks and
quackeries! Misery, confusion, unveracity are alone possible there. By
ballot-boxes we alter the _figure_ of our Quack; but the substance of
him continues. The Valet-World _has_ to be governed by the Sham-Hero, by
the King merely _dressed_ in King-gear. It is his; he is its! In brief,
one of two things: We shall either learn to know a Hero, a true Governor
and Captain, somewhat better, when we see him; or else go on to be
forever governed by the Unheroic;--had we ballot-boxes clattering at
every street-corner, there were no remedy in these.

Poor Cromwell,--great Cromwell! The inarticulate Prophet; Prophet who
could not _speak_. Rude, confused, struggling to utter himself, with his
savage depth, with his wild sincerity; and he looked so strange,
among the elegant Euphemisms, dainty little Falklands, didactic
Chillingworths, diplomatic Clarendons! Consider him. An outer hull
of chaotic confusion, visions of the Devil, nervous dreams, almost
semi-madness; and yet such a clear determinate man's-energy working in
the heart of that. A kind of chaotic man. The ray as of pure starlight
and fire, working in such an element of boundless hypochondria, unformed
black of darkness! And yet withal this hypochondria, what was it but
the very greatness of the man? The depth and tenderness of his wild
affections: the quantity of _sympathy_ he had with things,--the quantity
of insight he would yet get into the heart of things, the mastery he
would yet get over things: this was his hypochondria. The man's misery,
as man's misery always does, came of his greatness. Samuel Johnson too
is that kind of man. Sorrow-stricken, half-distracted; the wide element
of mournful _black_ enveloping him,--wide as the world. It is the
character of a prophetic man; a man with his whole soul _seeing_, and
struggling to see.

On this ground, too, I explain to myself Cromwell's reputed confusion of
speech. To himself the internal meaning was sun-clear; but the material
with which he was to clothe it in utterance was not there. He had
_lived_ silent; a great unnamed sea of Thought round him all his days;
and in his way of life little call to attempt _naming_ or uttering that.
With his sharp power of vision, resolute power of action, I doubt not he
could have learned to write Books withal, and speak fluently enough;--he
did harder things than writing of Books. This kind of man is precisely
he who is fit for doing manfully all things you will set him on doing.
Intellect is not speaking and logicizing; it is seeing and ascertaining.
Virtue, Virtues, manhood, _hero_hood, is not fair-spoken immaculate
regularity; it is first of all, what the Germans well name it, _Tugend_
(_Taugend_, _dow_-ing or _Dough_-tiness), Courage and the Faculty to
_do_. This basis of the matter Cromwell had in him.

One understands moreover how, though he could not speak in Parliament,
he might _preach_, rhapsodic preaching; above all, how he might be great
in extempore prayer. These are the free outpouring utterances of what is
in the heart: method is not required in them; warmth, depth, sincerity
are all that is required. Cromwell's habit of prayer is a notable
feature of him. All his great enterprises were commenced with prayer.
In dark inextricable-looking difficulties, his Officers and he used to
assemble, and pray alternately, for hours, for days, till some definite
resolution rose among them, some "door of hope," as they would name it,
disclosed itself. Consider that. In tears, in fervent prayers, and cries
to the great God, to have pity on them, to make His light shine before
them. They, armed Soldiers of Christ, as they felt themselves to be;
a little band of Christian Brothers, who had drawn the sword against
a great black devouring world not Christian, but Mammonish,
Devilish,--they cried to God in their straits, in their extreme need,
not to forsake the Cause that was His. The light which now rose upon
them,--how could a human soul, by any means at all, get better light?
Was not the purpose so formed like to be precisely the best, wisest, the
one to be followed without hesitation any more? To them it was as the
shining of Heaven's own Splendor in the waste-howling darkness; the
Pillar of Fire by night, that was to guide them on their desolate
perilous way. _Was_ it not such? Can a man's soul, to this hour, get
guidance by any other method than intrinsically by that same,--devout
prostration of the earnest struggling soul before the Highest, the
Giver of all Light; be such _prayer_ a spoken, articulate, or be it a
voiceless, inarticulate one? There is no other method. "Hypocrisy"? One
begins to be weary of all that. They who call it so, have no right to
speak on such matters. They never formed a purpose, what one can call
a purpose. They went about balancing expediencies, plausibilities;
gathering votes, advices; they never were alone with the _truth_ of a
thing at all.--Cromwell's prayers were likely to be "eloquent," and much
more than that. His was the heart of a man who _could_ pray.

But indeed his actual Speeches, I apprehend, were not nearly so
ineloquent, incondite, as they look. We find he was, what all speakers
aim to be, an impressive speaker, even in Parliament; one who, from the
first, had weight. With that rude passionate voice of his, he was
always understood to _mean_ something, and men wished to know what.
He disregarded eloquence, nay despised and disliked it; spoke always
without premeditation of the words he was to use. The Reporters, too,
in those days seem to have been singularly candid; and to have given the
Printer precisely what they found on their own note-paper. And withal,
what a strange proof is it of Cromwell's being the premeditative
ever-calculating hypocrite, acting a play before the world, That to the
last he took no more charge of his Speeches! How came he not to study
his words a little, before flinging them out to the public? If the words
were true words, they could be left to shift for themselves.

But with regard to Cromwell's "lying," we will make one remark. This,
I suppose, or something like this, to have been the nature of it. All
parties found themselves deceived in him; each party understood him to
be meaning _this_, heard him even say so, and behold he turns out to
have been meaning _that_! He was, cry they, the chief of liars. But now,
intrinsically, is not all this the inevitable fortune, not of a false
man in such times, but simply of a superior man? Such a man must have
_reticences_ in him. If he walk wearing his heart upon his sleeve for
daws to peck at, his journey will not extend far! There is no use for
any man's taking up his abode in a house built of glass. A man always is
to be himself the judge how much of his mind he will show to other men;
even to those he would have work along with him. There are impertinent
inquiries made: your rule is, to leave the inquirer uninformed on that
matter; not, if you can help it, misinformed, but precisely as dark as
he was! This, could one hit the right phrase of response, is what the
wise and faithful man would aim to answer in such a case.

Cromwell, no doubt of it, spoke often in the dialect of small subaltern
parties; uttered to them a _part_ of his mind. Each little party thought
him all its own. Hence their rage, one and all, to find him not of their
party, but of his own party. Was it his blame? At all seasons of his
history he must have felt, among such people, how, if he explained to
them the deeper insight he had, they must either have shuddered aghast
at it, or believing it, their own little compact hypothesis must have
gone wholly to wreck. They could not have worked in his province any
more; nay perhaps they could not now have worked in their own province.
It is the inevitable position of a great man among small men. Small men,
most active, useful, are to be seen everywhere, whose whole activity
depends on some conviction which to you is palpably a limited one;
imperfect, what we call an _error_. But would it be a kindness always,
is it a duty always or often, to disturb them in that? Many a man,
doing loud work in the world, stands only on some thin traditionality,
conventionality; to him indubitable, to you incredible: break that
beneath him, he sinks to endless depths! "I might have my hand full of
truth," said Fontenelle, "and open only my little finger."

And if this be the fact even in matters of doctrine, how much more in
all departments of practice! He that cannot withal _keep his mind to
himself_ cannot practice any considerable thing whatever. And we call it
"dissimulation," all this? What would you think of calling the general
of an army a dissembler because he did not tell every corporal and
private soldier, who pleased to put the question, what his thoughts were
about everything?--Cromwell, I should rather say, managed all this in
a manner we must admire for its perfection. An endless vortex of such
questioning "corporals" rolled confusedly round him through his whole
course; whom he did answer. It must have been as a great true-seeing man
that he managed this too. Not one proved falsehood, as I said; not one!
Of what man that ever wound himself through such a coil of things will
you say so much?--

But in fact there are two errors, widely prevalent, which pervert to the
very basis our judgments formed about such men as Cromwell; about their
"ambition," "falsity," and such like. The first is what I might
call substituting the _goal_ of their career for the course and
starting-point of it. The vulgar Historian of a Cromwell fancies that
he had determined on being Protector of England, at the time when he was
ploughing the marsh lands of Cambridgeshire. His career lay all
mapped out: a program of the whole drama; which he then step by step
dramatically unfolded, with all manner of cunning, deceptive dramaturgy,
as he went on,--the hollow, scheming [Gr.] _Upokrites_, or Play-actor,
that he was! This is a radical perversion; all but universal in such
cases. And think for an instant how different the fact is! How much does
one of us foresee of his own life? Short way ahead of us it is all dim;
an unwound skein of possibilities, of apprehensions, attemptabilities,
vague-looming hopes. This Cromwell had _not_ his life lying all in that
fashion of Program, which he needed then, with that unfathomable cunning
of his, only to enact dramatically, scene after scene! Not so. We see it
so; but to him it was in no measure so. What absurdities would fall away
of themselves, were this one undeniable fact kept honestly in view
by History! Historians indeed will tell you that they do keep it in
view;--but look whether such is practically the fact! Vulgar History,
as in this Cromwell's case, omits it altogether; even the best kinds of
History only remember it now and then. To remember it duly with rigorous
perfection, as in the fact it _stood_, requires indeed a rare faculty;
rare, nay impossible. A very Shakspeare for faculty; or more than
Shakspeare; who could _enact_ a brother man's biography, see with the
brother man's eyes at all points of his course what things _he_ saw; in
short, _know_ his course and him, as few "Historians" are like to do.
Half or more of all the thick-plied perversions which distort our image
of Cromwell, will disappear, if we honestly so much as try to represent
them so; in sequence, as they _were_; not in the lump, as they are
thrown down before us.

But a second error, which I think the generality commit, refers to this
same "ambition" itself. We exaggerate the ambition of Great Men; we
mistake what the nature of it is. Great Men are not ambitious in that
sense; he is a small poor man that is ambitious so. Examine the man
who lives in misery because he does not shine above other men; who goes
about producing himself, pruriently anxious about his gifts and claims;
struggling to force everybody, as it were begging everybody for God's
sake, to acknowledge him a great man, and set him over the heads of men!
Such a creature is among the wretchedest sights seen under this sun. A
_great_ man? A poor morbid prurient empty man; fitter for the ward of a
hospital, than for a throne among men. I advise you to keep out of his
way. He cannot walk on quiet paths; unless you will look at him,
wonder at him, write paragraphs about him, he cannot live. It is the
_emptiness_ of the man, not his greatness. Because there is nothing in
himself, he hungers and thirsts that you would find something in him. In
good truth, I believe no great man, not so much as a genuine man who had
health and real substance in him of whatever magnitude, was ever much
tormented in this way.

Your Cromwell, what good could it do him to be "noticed" by noisy crowds
of people? God his Maker already noticed him. He, Cromwell, was already
there; no notice would make _him_ other than he already was. Till his
hair was grown gray; and Life from the down-hill slope was all seen to
be limited, not infinite but finite, and all a measurable matter _how_
it went,--he had been content to plough the ground, and read his Bible.
He in his old days could not support it any longer, without selling
himself to Falsehood, that he might ride in gilt carriages to Whitehall,
and have clerks with bundles of papers haunting him, "Decide this,
decide that," which in utmost sorrow of heart no man can perfectly
decide! What could gilt carriages do for this man? From of old, was
there not in his life a weight of meaning, a terror and a splendor as
of Heaven itself? His existence there as man set him beyond the need
of gilding. Death, Judgment and Eternity: these already lay as the
background of whatsoever he thought or did. All his life lay begirt as
in a sea of nameless Thoughts, which no speech of a mortal could name.
God's Word, as the Puritan prophets of that time had read it: this was
great, and all else was little to him. To call such a man "ambitious,"
to figure him as the prurient wind-bag described above, seems to me the
poorest solecism. Such a man will say: "Keep your gilt carriages and
huzzaing mobs, keep your red-tape clerks, your influentialities, your
important businesses. Leave me alone, leave me alone; there is _too
much of life_ in me already!" Old Samuel Johnson, the greatest soul in
England in his day, was not ambitious. "Corsica Boswell" flaunted at
public shows with printed ribbons round his hat; but the great old
Samuel stayed at home. The world-wide soul wrapt up in its thoughts, in
its sorrows;--what could paradings, and ribbons in the hat, do for it?

Ah yes, I will say again: The great _silent_ men! Looking round on the
noisy inanity of the world, words with little meaning, actions with
little worth, one loves to reflect on the great Empire of _Silence_.
The noble silent men, scattered here and there, each in his department;
silently thinking, silently working; whom no Morning Newspaper makes
mention of! They are the salt of the Earth. A country that has none or
few of these is in a bad way. Like a forest which had no _roots_; which
had all turned into leaves and boughs;--which must soon wither and be no
forest. Woe for us if we had nothing but what we can _show_, or speak.
Silence, the great Empire of Silence: higher than the stars; deeper than
the Kingdoms of Death! It alone is great; all else is small.--I hope
we English will long maintain our _grand talent pour le silence_. Let
others that cannot do without standing on barrel-heads, to spout, and
be seen of all the market-place, cultivate speech exclusively,--become a
most green forest without roots! Solomon says, There is a time to speak;
but also a time to keep silence. Of some great silent Samuel, not urged
to writing, as old Samuel Johnson says he was, by _want of money_, and
nothing other, one might ask, "Why do not you too get up and speak;
promulgate your system, found your sect?" "Truly," he will answer, "I am
_continent_ of my thought hitherto; happily I have yet had the ability
to keep it in me, no compulsion strong enough to speak it. My 'system'
is not for promulgation first of all; it is for serving myself to live
by. That is the great purpose of it to me. And then the 'honor'? Alas,
yes;--but as Cato said of the statue: So many statues in that Forum of
yours, may it not be better if they ask, Where is Cato's statue?"--

But now, by way of counterpoise to this of Silence, let me say that
there are two kinds of ambition; one wholly blamable, the other laudable
and inevitable. Nature has provided that the great silent Samuel shall
not be silent too long. The selfish wish to shine over others, let it
be accounted altogether poor and miserable. "Seekest thou great
things, seek them not:" this is most true. And yet, I say, there is an
irrepressible tendency in every man to develop himself according to the
magnitude which Nature has made him of; to speak out, to act out, what
nature has laid in him. This is proper, fit, inevitable; nay it is a
duty, and even the summary of duties for a man. The meaning of life here
on earth might be defined as consisting in this: To unfold your _self_,
to work what thing you have the faculty for. It is a necessity for
the human being, the first law of our existence. Coleridge beautifully
remarks that the infant learns to _speak_ by this necessity it
feels.--We will say therefore: To decide about ambition, whether it is
bad or not, you have two things to take into view. Not the coveting of
the place alone, but the fitness of the man for the place withal: that
is the question. Perhaps the place was _his_; perhaps he had a natural
right, and even obligation, to seek the place! Mirabeau's ambition to
be Prime Minister, how shall we blame it, if he were "the only man in
France that could have done any good there"? Hopefuler perhaps had he
not so clearly _felt_ how much good he could do! But a poor Necker, who
could do no good, and had even felt that he could do none, yet sitting
broken-hearted because they had flung him out, and he was now quit of
it, well might Gibbon mourn over him.--Nature, I say, has provided amply
that the silent great man shall strive to speak withal; _too_ amply,

Fancy, for example, you had revealed to the brave old Samuel Johnson, in
his shrouded-up existence, that it was possible for him to do priceless
divine work for his country and the whole world. That the perfect
Heavenly Law might be made Law on this Earth; that the prayer he prayed
daily, "Thy kingdom come," was at length to be fulfilled! If you had
convinced his judgment of this; that it was possible, practicable; that
he the mournful silent Samuel was called to take a part in it! Would not
the whole soul of the man have flamed up into a divine clearness,
into noble utterance and determination to act; casting all sorrows and
misgivings under his feet, counting all affliction and contradiction
small,--the whole dark element of his existence blazing into articulate
radiance of light and lightning? It were a true ambition this! And think
now how it actually was with Cromwell. From of old, the sufferings of
God's Church, true zealous Preachers of the truth flung into dungeons,
whips, set on pillories, their ears crops off, God's Gospel-cause
trodden under foot of the unworthy: all this had lain heavy on his
soul. Long years he had looked upon it, in silence, in prayer; seeing no
remedy on Earth; trusting well that a remedy in Heaven's goodness would
come,--that such a course was false, unjust, and could not last forever.
And now behold the dawn of it; after twelve years silent waiting, all
England stirs itself; there is to be once more a Parliament, the Right
will get a voice for itself: inexpressible well-grounded hope has come
again into the Earth. Was not such a Parliament worth being a member of?
Cromwell threw down his ploughs, and hastened thither.

He spoke there,--rugged bursts of earnestness, of a self-seen truth,
where we get a glimpse of them. He worked there; he fought and strove,
like a strong true giant of a man, through cannon-tumult and all
else,--on and on, till the Cause _triumphed_, its once so formidable
enemies all swept from before it, and the dawn of hope had become clear
light of victory and certainty. That _he_ stood there as the strongest
soul of England, the undisputed Hero of all England,--what of this? It
was possible that the Law of Christ's Gospel could now establish itself
in the world! The Theocracy which John Knox in his pulpit might dream of
as a "devout imagination," this practical man, experienced in the whole
chaos of most rough practice, dared to consider as capable of being
_realized_. Those that were highest in Christ's Church, the devoutest
wisest men, were to rule the land: in some considerable degree, it might
be so and should be so. Was it not _true_, God's truth? And if _true_,
was it not then the very thing to do? The strongest practical intellect
in England dared to answer, Yes! This I call a noble true purpose; is it
not, in its own dialect, the noblest that could enter into the heart
of Statesman or man? For a Knox to take it up was something; but for a
Cromwell, with his great sound sense and experience of what our world
_was_,--History, I think, shows it only this once in such a degree.
I account it the culminating point of Protestantism; the most heroic
phasis that "Faith in the Bible" was appointed to exhibit here below.
Fancy it: that it were made manifest to one of us, how we could make the
Right supremely victorious over Wrong, and all that we had longed and
prayed for, as the highest good to England and all lands, an attainable

Well, I must say, the _vulpine_ intellect, with its knowingness, its
alertness and expertness in "detecting hypocrites," seems to me a rather
sorry business. We have had but one such Statesman in England; one
man, that I can get sight of, who ever had in the heart of him any such
purpose at all. One man, in the course of fifteen hundred years; and
this was his welcome. He had adherents by the hundred or the ten;
opponents by the million. Had England rallied all round him,--why,
then, England might have been a _Christian_ land! As it is, vulpine
knowingness sits yet at its hopeless problem, "Given a world of Knaves,
to educe an Honesty from their united action;"--how cumbrous a problem,
you may see in Chancery Law-Courts, and some other places! Till at
length, by Heaven's just anger, but also by Heaven's great grace, the
matter begins to stagnate; and this problem is becoming to all men a
_palpably_ hopeless one.--

But with regard to Cromwell and his purposes: Hume, and a multitude
following him, come upon me here with an admission that Cromwell _was_
sincere at first; a sincere "Fanatic" at first, but gradually became a
"Hypocrite" as things opened round him. This of the Fanatic-Hypocrite
is Hume's theory of it; extensively applied since,--to Mahomet and many
others. Think of it seriously, you will find something in it; not much,
not all, very far from all. Sincere hero hearts do not sink in this
miserable manner. The Sun flings forth impurities, gets balefully
incrusted with spots; but it does not quench itself, and become no Sun
at all, but a mass of Darkness! I will venture to say that such never
befell a great deep Cromwell; I think, never. Nature's own lionhearted
Son; Antaeus-like, his strength is got by _touching the Earth_, his
Mother; lift him up from the Earth, lift him up into Hypocrisy, Inanity,
his strength is gone. We will not assert that Cromwell was an immaculate
man; that he fell into no faults, no insincerities among the rest. He
was no dilettante professor of "perfections," "immaculate conducts."
He was a rugged Orson, rending his rough way through actual true
_work_,--_doubtless_ with many a _fall_ therein. Insincerities, faults,
very many faults daily and hourly: it was too well known to him; known
to God and him! The Sun was dimmed many a time; but the Sun had not
himself grown a Dimness. Cromwell's last words, as he lay waiting for
death, are those of a Christian heroic man. Broken prayers to God, that
He would judge him and this Cause, He since man could not, in justice
yet in pity. They are most touching words. He breathed out his wild
great soul, its toils and sins all ended now, into the presence of his
Maker, in this manner.

I, for one, will not call the man a Hypocrite! Hypocrite, mummer, the
life of him a mere theatricality; empty barren quack, hungry for the
shouts of mobs? The man had made obscurity do very well for him till his
head was gray; and now he _was_, there as he stood recognized unblamed,
the virtual King of England. Cannot a man do without King's Coaches and
Cloaks? Is it such a blessedness to have clerks forever pestering you
with bundles of papers in red tape? A simple Diocletian prefers planting
of cabbages; a George Washington, no very immeasurable man, does the
like. One would say, it is what any genuine man could do; and would do.
The instant his real work were out in the matter of Kingship,--away with

Let us remark, meanwhile, how indispensable everywhere a _King_ is, in
all movements of men. It is strikingly shown, in this very War, what
becomes of men when they cannot find a Chief Man, and their enemies can.
The Scotch Nation was all but unanimous in Puritanism; zealous and of
one mind about it, as in this English end of the Island was always far
from being the case. But there was no great Cromwell among them; poor
tremulous, hesitating, diplomatic Argyles and such like: none of them
had a heart true enough for the truth, or durst commit himself to the
truth. They had no leader; and the scattered Cavalier party in that
country had one: Montrose, the noblest of all the Cavaliers; an
accomplished, gallant-hearted, splendid man; what one may call the
Hero-Cavalier. Well, look at it; on the one hand subjects without a
King; on the other a King without subjects! The subjects without King
can do nothing; the subjectless King can do something. This Montrose,
with a handful of Irish or Highland savages, few of them so much as
guns in their hands, dashes at the drilled Puritan armies like a wild
whirlwind; sweeps them, time after time, some five times over, from the
field before him. He was at one period, for a short while, master of all
Scotland. One man; but he was a man; a million zealous men, but without
the one; they against him were powerless! Perhaps of all the persons in
that Puritan struggle, from first to last, the single indispensable one
was verily Cromwell. To see and dare, and decide; to be a fixed pillar
in the welter of uncertainty;--a King among them, whether they called
him so or not.

Precisely here, however, lies the rub for Cromwell. His other
proceedings have all found advocates, and stand generally justified;
but this dismissal of the Rump Parliament and assumption of the
Protectorship, is what no one can pardon him. He had fairly grown to be
King in England; Chief Man of the victorious party in England: but it
seems he could not do without the King's Cloak, and sold himself to
perdition in order to get it. Let us see a little how this was.

England, Scotland, Ireland, all lying now subdued at the feet of the
Puritan Parliament, the practical question arose, What was to be done
with it? How will you govern these Nations, which Providence in a
wondrous way has given up to your disposal? Clearly those hundred
surviving members of the Long Parliament, who sit there as supreme
authority, cannot continue forever to sit. What _is_ to be done?--It
was a question which theoretical constitution-builders may find easy to
answer; but to Cromwell, looking there into the real practical facts of
it, there could be none more complicated. He asked of the Parliament,
What it was they would decide upon? It was for the Parliament to
say. Yet the Soldiers too, however contrary to Formula, they who had
purchased this victory with their blood, it seemed to them that they
also should have something to say in it! We will not "for all our
fighting have nothing but a little piece of paper." We understand that
the Law of God's Gospel, to which He through us has given the victory,
shall establish itself, or try to establish itself, in this land!

For three years, Cromwell says, this question had been sounded in the
ears of the Parliament. They could make no answer; nothing but talk,
talk. Perhaps it lies in the nature of parliamentary bodies; perhaps
no Parliament could in such case make any answer but even that of talk,
talk! Nevertheless the question must and shall be answered. You sixty
men there, becoming fast odious, even despicable, to the whole nation,
whom the nation already calls Rump Parliament, you cannot continue to
sit there: who or what then is to follow? "Free Parliament," right of
Election, Constitutional Formulas of one sort or the other,--the thing
is a hungry Fact coming on us, which we must answer or be devoured by
it! And who are you that prate of Constitutional Formulas, rights of
Parliament? You have had to kill your King, to make Pride's Purges, to
expel and banish by the law of the stronger whosoever would not let
your Cause prosper: there are but fifty or threescore of you left there,
debating in these days. Tell us what we shall do; not in the way of
Formula, but of practicable Fact!

How they did finally answer, remains obscure to this day. The diligent
Godwin himself admits that he cannot make it out. The likeliest is, that
this poor Parliament still would not, and indeed could not dissolve and
disperse; that when it came to the point of actually dispersing, they
again, for the tenth or twentieth time, adjourned it,--and Cromwell's
patience failed him. But we will take the favorablest hypothesis ever
started for the Parliament; the favorablest, though I believe it is not
the true one, but too favorable.

According to this version: At the uttermost crisis, when Cromwell and
his Officers were met on the one hand, and the fifty or sixty Rump
Members on the other, it was suddenly told Cromwell that the Rump in its
despair _was_ answering in a very singular way; that in their splenetic
envious despair, to keep out the Army at least, these men were hurrying
through the House a kind of Reform Bill,--Parliament to be chosen by
the whole of England; equable electoral division into districts; free
suffrage, and the rest of it! A very questionable, or indeed for _them_
an unquestionable thing. Reform Bill, free suffrage of Englishmen? Why,
the Royalists themselves, silenced indeed but not exterminated, perhaps
_outnumber_ us; the great numerical majority of England was always
indifferent to our Cause, merely looked at it and submitted to it. It is
in weight and force, not by counting of heads, that we are the majority!
And now with your Formulas and Reform Bills, the whole matter, sorely
won by our swords, shall again launch itself to sea; become a mere
hope, and likelihood, _small_ even as a likelihood? And it is not a
likelihood; it is a certainty, which we have won, by God's strength and
our own right hands, and do now hold _here_. Cromwell walked down to
these refractory Members; interrupted them in that rapid speed of their
Reform Bill;--ordered them to begone, and talk there no more.--Can we
not forgive him? Can we not understand him? John Milton, who looked
on it all near at hand, could applaud him. The Reality had swept the
Formulas away before it. I fancy, most men who were realities in England
might see into the necessity of that.

The strong daring man, therefore, has set all manner of Formulas and
logical superficialities against him; has dared appeal to the genuine
Fact of this England, Whether it will support him or not? It is curious
to see how he struggles to govern in some constitutional way; find some
Parliament to support him; but cannot. His first Parliament, the one
they call Barebones's Parliament, is, so to speak, a _Convocation of the
Notables_. From all quarters of England the leading Ministers and chief
Puritan Officials nominate the men most distinguished by religious
reputation, influence and attachment to the true Cause: these are
assembled to shape out a plan. They sanctioned what was past; shaped as
they could what was to come. They were scornfully called _Barebones's
Parliament_: the man's name, it seems, was not _Barebones_, but
Barbone,--a good enough man. Nor was it a jest, their work; it was a
most serious reality,--a trial on the part of these Puritan Notables how
far the Law of Christ could become the Law of this England. There
were men of sense among them, men of some quality; men of deep piety I
suppose the most of them were. They failed, it seems, and broke down,
endeavoring to reform the Court of Chancery! They dissolved themselves,
as incompetent; delivered up their power again into the hands of the
Lord General Cromwell, to do with it what he liked and could.

What _will_ he do with it? The Lord General Cromwell,
"Commander-in-chief of all the Forces raised and to be raised;" he
hereby sees himself, at this unexampled juncture, as it were the one
available Authority left in England, nothing between England and utter
Anarchy but him alone. Such is the undeniable Fact of his position and
England's, there and then. What will he do with it? After deliberation,
he decides that he will _accept_ it; will formally, with public
solemnity, say and vow before God and men, "Yes, the Fact is so, and
I will do the best I can with it!" Protectorship, Instrument of
Government,--these are the external forms of the thing; worked out and
sanctioned as they could in the circumstances be, by the Judges, by the
leading Official people, "Council of Officers and Persons of interest in
the Nation:" and as for the thing itself, undeniably enough, at the pass
matters had now come to, there _was_ no alternative but Anarchy or that.
Puritan England might accept it or not; but Puritan England was, in real
truth, saved from suicide thereby!--I believe the Puritan People did,
in an inarticulate, grumbling, yet on the whole grateful and real way,
accept this anomalous act of Oliver's; at least, he and they together
made it good, and always better to the last. But in their Parliamentary
_articulate_ way, they had their difficulties, and never knew fully what
to say to it--!

Oliver's second Parliament, properly his _first_ regular Parliament,
chosen by the rule laid down in the Instrument of Government, did
assemble, and worked;--but got, before long, into bottomless questions
as to the Protector's _right_, as to "usurpation," and so forth; and had
at the earliest legal day to be dismissed. Cromwell's concluding Speech
to these men is a remarkable one. So likewise to his third Parliament,
in similar rebuke for their pedantries and obstinacies. Most rude,
chaotic, all these Speeches are; but most earnest-looking. You would
say, it was a sincere helpless man; not used to _speak_ the great
inorganic thought of him, but to act it rather! A helplessness of
utterance, in such bursting fulness of meaning. He talks much about
"births of Providence:" All these changes, so many victories and events,
were not forethoughts, and theatrical contrivances of men, of _me_ or
of men; it is blind blasphemers that will persist in calling them so!
He insists with a heavy sulphurous wrathful emphasis on this. As he well
might. As if a Cromwell in that dark huge game he had been playing, the
world wholly thrown into chaos round him, had _foreseen_ it all, and
played it all off like a precontrived puppet-show by wood and wire!
These things were foreseen by no man, he says; no man could tell what
a day would bring forth: they were "births of Providence," God's finger
guided us on, and we came at last to clear height of victory, God's
Cause triumphant in these Nations; and you as a Parliament could
assemble together, and say in what manner all this could be _organized_,
reduced into rational feasibility among the affairs of men. You were
to help with your wise counsel in doing that. "You have had such an
opportunity as no Parliament in England ever had." Christ's Law, the
Right and True, was to be in some measure made the Law of this land.
In place of that, you have got into your idle pedantries,
constitutionalities, bottomless cavillings and questionings about
written laws for my coming here;--and would send the whole matter into
Chaos again, because I have no Notary's parchment, but only God's
voice from the battle-whirlwind, for being President among you! That
opportunity is gone; and we know not when it will return. You have had
your constitutional Logic; and Mammon's Law, not Christ's Law, rules
yet in this land. "God be judge between you and me!" These are his final
words to them: Take you your constitution-formulas in your hand; and I
my informal struggles, purposes, realities and acts; and "God be judge
between you and me!"--

We said above what shapeless, involved chaotic things the printed
Speeches of Cromwell are. _Wilfully_ ambiguous, unintelligible, say the
most: a hypocrite shrouding himself in confused Jesuitic jargon! To me
they do not seem so. I will say rather, they afforded the first glimpses
I could ever get into the reality of this Cromwell, nay into the
possibility of him. Try to believe that he means something, search
lovingly what that may be: you will find a real _speech_ lying
imprisoned in these broken rude tortuous utterances; a meaning in the
great heart of this inarticulate man! You will, for thc first time,
begin to see that he was a man; not an enigmatic chimera, unintelligible
to you, incredible to you. The Histories and Biographies written of this
Cromwell, written in shallow sceptical generations that could not
know or conceive of a deep believing man, are far more _obscure_ than
Cromwell's Speeches. You look through them only into the infinite vague
of Black and the Inane. "Heats and jealousies," says Lord Clarendon
himself: "heats and jealousies," mere crabbed whims, theories and
crotchets; these induced slow sober quiet Englishmen to lay down their
ploughs and work; and fly into red fury of confused war against the
best-conditioned of Kings! _Try_ if you can find that true. Scepticism
writing about Belief may have great gifts; but it is really _ultra
vires_ there. It is Blindness laying down the Laws of Optics.--

Cromwell's third Parliament split on the same rock as his second. Ever
the constitutional Formula: How came you there? Show us some Notary
parchment! Blind pedants:--"Why, surely the same power which makes you
a Parliament, that, and something more, made me a Protector!" If
my Protectorship is nothing, what in the name of wonder is your
Parliamenteership, a reflex and creation of that?--

Parliaments having failed, there remained nothing but the way of
Despotism. Military Dictators, each with his district, to _coerce_
the Royalist and other gainsayers, to govern them, if not by act of
Parliament, then by the sword. Formula shall _not_ carry it, while the
Reality is here! I will go on, protecting oppressed Protestants abroad,
appointing just judges, wise managers, at home, cherishing true Gospel
ministers; doing the best I can to make England a Christian England,
greater than old Rome, the Queen of Protestant Christianity; I, since
you will not help me; I while God leaves me life!--Why did he not give
it up; retire into obscurity again, since the Law would not acknowledge
him? cry several. That is where they mistake. For him there was no
giving of it up! Prime ministers have governed countries, Pitt, Pombal,
Choiseul; and their word was a law while it held: but this Prime
Minister was one that _could not get resigned_. Let him once resign,
Charles Stuart and the Cavaliers waited to kill him; to kill the Cause
_and_ him. Once embarked, there is no retreat, no return. This Prime
Minister could _retire_ no-whither except into his tomb.

One is sorry for Cromwell in his old days. His complaint is incessant of
the heavy burden Providence has laid on him. Heavy; which he must bear
till death. Old Colonel Hutchinson, as his wife relates it, Hutchinson,
his old battle-mate, coming to see him on some indispensable business,
much against his will,--Cromwell "follows him to the door," in a
most fraternal, domestic, conciliatory style; begs that he would be
reconciled to him, his old brother in arms; says how much it grieves him
to be misunderstood, deserted by true fellow-soldiers, dear to him
from of old: the rigorous Hutchinson, cased in his Republican formula,
sullenly goes his way.--And the man's head now white; his strong arm
growing weary with its long work! I think always too of his poor Mother,
now very old, living in that Palace of his; a right brave woman; as
indeed they lived all an honest God-fearing Household there: if she
heard a shot go off, she thought it was her son killed. He had to come
to her at least once a day, that she might see with her own eyes that he
was yet living. The poor old Mother!--What had this man gained; what had
he gained? He had a life of sore strife and toil, to his last day. Fame,
ambition, place in History? His dead body was hung in chains, his "place
in History,"--place in History forsooth!--has been a place of ignominy,
accusation, blackness and disgrace; and here, this day, who knows if it
is not rash in me to be among the first that ever ventured to pronounce
him not a knave and liar, but a genuinely honest man! Peace to him. Did
he not, in spite of all, accomplish much for us? _We_ walk smoothly over
his great rough heroic life; step over his body sunk in the ditch there.
We need not _spurn_ it, as we step on it!--Let the Hero rest. It was not
to _men's_ judgment that he appealed; nor have men judged him very well.

Precisely a century and a year after this of Puritanism had got itself
hushed up into decent composure, and its results made smooth, in 1688,
there broke out a far deeper explosion, much more difficult to hush up,
known to all mortals, and like to be long known, by the name of French
Revolution. It is properly the third and final act of Protestantism; the
explosive confused return of mankind to Reality and Fact, now that they
were perishing of Semblance and Sham. We call our English Puritanism the
second act: "Well then, the Bible is true; let us go by the Bible!" "In
Church," said Luther; "In Church and State," said Cromwell, "let us go
by what actually _is_ God's Truth." Men have to return to reality; they
cannot live on semblance. The French Revolution, or third act, we may
well call the final one; for lower than that savage _Sansculottism_ men
cannot go. They stand there on the nakedest haggard Fact, undeniable in
all seasons and circumstances; and may and must begin again confidently
to build up from that. The French explosion, like the English one, got
its King,--who had no Notary parchment to show for himself. We have
still to glance for a moment at Napoleon, our second modern King.

Napoleon does by no means seem to me so great a man as Cromwell. His
enormous victories which reached over all Europe, while Cromwell abode
mainly in our little England, are but as the high _stilts_ on which the
man is seen standing; the stature of the man is not altered thereby.
I find in him no such _sincerity_ as in Cromwell; only a far inferior
sort. No silent walking, through long years, with the Awful Unnamable
of this Universe; "walking with God," as he called it; and faith and
strength in that alone: _latent_ thought and valor, content to lie
latent, then burst out as in blaze of Heaven's lightning! Napoleon lived
in an age when God was no longer believed; the meaning of all Silence,
Latency, was thought to be Nonentity: he had to begin not out of the
Puritan Bible, but out of poor Sceptical _Encyclopedies_. This was
the length the man carried it. Meritorious to get so far. His compact,
prompt, every way articulate character is in itself perhaps small,
compared with our great chaotic inarticulate Cromwell's. Instead of
"dumb Prophet struggling to speak," we have a portentous mixture of the
Quack withal! Hume's notion of the Fanatic-Hypocrite, with such truth as
it has, will apply much better to Napoleon than it did to Cromwell,
to Mahomet or the like,--where indeed taken strictly it has hardly any
truth at all. An element of blamable ambition shows itself, from the
first, in this man; gets the victory over him at last, and involves him
and his work in ruin.

"False as a bulletin" became a proverb in Napoleon's time. He makes what
excuse he could for it: that it was necessary to mislead the enemy, to
keep up his own men's courage, and so forth. On the whole, there are no
excuses. A man in no case has liberty to tell lies. It had been, in the
long-run, _better_ for Napoleon too if he had not told any. In fact,
if a man have any purpose reaching beyond the hour and day, meant to be
found extant _next_ day, what good can it ever be to promulgate lies?
The lies are found out; ruinous penalty is exacted for them. No man will
believe the liar next time even when he speaks truth, when it is of
the last importance that he be believed. The old cry of wolf!--A Lie is
no-thing; you cannot of nothing make something; you make _nothing_ at
last, and lose your labor into the bargain.

Yet Napoleon _had_ a sincerity: we are to distinguish between what is
superficial and what is fundamental in insincerity. Across these outer
manoeuverings and quackeries of his, which were many and most
blamable, let us discern withal that the man had a certain instinctive
ineradicable feeling for reality; and did base himself upon fact, so
long as he had any basis. He has an instinct of Nature better than his
culture was. His _savans_, Bourrienne tells us, in that voyage to Egypt
were one evening busily occupied arguing that there could be no God.
They had proved it, to their satisfaction, by all manner of logic.
Napoleon looking up into the stars, answers, "Very ingenious, Messieurs:
but _who made_ all that?" The Atheistic logic runs off from him like
water; the great Fact stares him in the face: "Who made all that?" So
too in Practice: he, as every man that can be great, or have victory in
this world, sees, through all entanglements, the practical heart of the
matter; drives straight towards that. When the steward of his
Tuileries Palace was exhibiting the new upholstery, with praises, and
demonstration how glorious it was, and how cheap withal, Napoleon,
making little answer, asked for a pair of scissors, clips one of the
gold tassels from a window-curtain, put it in his pocket, and walked on.
Some days afterwards, he produced it at the right moment, to the horror
of his upholstery functionary; it was not gold but tinsel! In St.
Helena, it is notable how he still, to his last days, insists on the
practical, the real. "Why talk and complain; above all, why quarrel with
one another? There is no _result_ in it; it comes to nothing that one
can _do_. Say nothing, if one can do nothing!" He speaks often so, to
his poor discontented followers; he is like a piece of silent strength
in the middle of their morbid querulousness there.

And accordingly was there not what we can call a _faith_ in him, genuine
so far as it went? That this new enormous Democracy asserting itself
here in the French Revolution is an unsuppressible Fact, which the whole
world, with its old forces and institutions, cannot put down; this was
a true insight of his, and took his conscience and enthusiasm along with
it,--a _faith_. And did he not interpret the dim purport of it well?
"_La carriere ouverte aux talens_, The implements to him who can handle
them:" this actually is the truth, and even the whole truth; it includes
whatever the French Revolution or any Revolution, could mean. Napoleon,
in his first period, was a true Democrat. And yet by the nature of him,
fostered too by his military trade, he knew that Democracy, if it were
a true thing at all, could not be an anarchy: the man had a heart-hatred
for anarchy. On that Twentieth of June (1792), Bourrienne and he sat
in a coffee-house, as the mob rolled by: Napoleon expresses the deepest
contempt for persons in authority that they do not restrain this rabble.
On the Tenth of August he wonders why there is no man to command these
poor Swiss; they would conquer if there were. Such a faith in Democracy,
yet hatred of anarchy, it is that carries Napoleon through all his great
work. Through his brilliant Italian Campaigns, onwards to the Peace
of Leoben, one would say, his inspiration is: "Triumph to the French
Revolution; assertion of it against these Austrian Simulacra that
pretend to call it a Simulacrum!" Withal, however, he feels, and has a
right to feel, how necessary a strong Authority is; how the Revolution
cannot prosper or last without such. To bridle in that great devouring,
self-devouring French Revolution; to _tame_ it, so that its intrinsic
purpose can be made good, that it may become _organic_, and be able
to live among other organisms and _formed_ things, not as a wasting
destruction alone: is not this still what he partly aimed at, as the
true purport of his life; nay what he actually managed to do? Through
Wagrams, Austerlitzes; triumph after triumph,--he triumphed so far.
There was an eye to see in this man, a soul to dare and do. He rose
naturally to be the King. All men saw that he _was_ such. The common
soldiers used to say on the march: "These babbling _Avocats_, up at
Paris; all talk and no work! What wonder it runs all wrong? We shall
have to go and put our _Petit Caporal_ there!" They went, and put him
there; they and France at large. Chief-consulship, Emperorship, victory
over Europe;--till the poor Lieutenant of _La Fere_, not unnaturally,
might seem to himself the greatest of all men that had been in the world
for some ages.

But at this point, I think, the fatal charlatan-element got the upper
hand. He apostatized from his old faith in Facts, took to believing in
Semblances; strove to connect himself with Austrian Dynasties,
Popedoms, with the old false Feudalities which he once saw clearly to
be false;--considered that _he_ would found "his Dynasty" and so forth;
that the enormous French Revolution meant only that! The man was "given
up to strong delusion, that he should believe a lie;" a fearful but
most sure thing. He did not know true from false now when he looked
at them,--the fearfulest penalty a man pays for yielding to untruth of
heart. _Self_ and false ambition had now become his god: self-deception
once yielded to, _all_ other deceptions follow naturally more and more.
What a paltry patchwork of theatrical paper-mantles, tinsel and mummery,
had this man wrapt his own great reality in, thinking to make it
more real thereby! His hollow _Pope's-Concordat_, pretending to be a
re-establishment of Catholicism, felt by himself to be the method
of extirpating it, "_la vaccine de la religion_:" his ceremonial
Coronations, consecrations by the old Italian Chimera in
Notre-Dame,--"wanting nothing to complete the pomp of it," as Augereau
said, "nothing but the half-million of men who had died to put an end to
all that"! Cromwell's Inauguration was by the Sword and Bible; what we
must call a genuinely _true_ one. Sword and Bible were borne before him,
without any chimera: were not these the _real_ emblems of Puritanism;
its true decoration and insignia? It had used them both in a very real
manner, and pretended to stand by them now! But this poor Napoleon
mistook: he believed too much in the _Dupability_ of men; saw no fact
deeper in man than Hunger and this! He was mistaken. Like a man that
should build upon cloud; his house and he fall down in confused wreck,
and depart out of the world.

Alas, in all of us this charlatan-element exists; and _might_ be
developed, were the temptation strong enough. "Lead us not into
temptation"! But it is fatal, I say, that it _be_ developed. The
thing into which it enters as a cognizable ingredient is doomed to be
altogether transitory; and, however huge it may _look_, is in itself
small. Napoleon's working, accordingly, what was it with all the noise
it made? A flash as of gunpowder wide-spread; a blazing-up as of dry
heath. For an hour the whole Universe seems wrapt in smoke and flame;
but only for an hour. It goes out: the Universe with its old mountains
and streams, its stars above and kind soil beneath, is still there.

The Duke of Weimar told his friends always, To be of courage; this
Napoleonism was _unjust_, a falsehood, and could not last. It is true
doctrine. The heavier this Napoleon trampled on the world, holding it
tyrannously down, the fiercer would the world's recoil against him be,
one day. Injustice pays itself with frightful compound-interest. I am
not sure but he had better have lost his best park of artillery, or
had his best regiment drowned in the sea, than shot that poor German
Bookseller, Palm! It was a palpable tyrannous murderous injustice, which
no man, let him paint an inch thick, could make out to be other. It
burnt deep into the hearts of men, it and the like of it; suppressed
fire flashed in the eyes of men, as they thought of it,--waiting their
day! Which day _came_: Germany rose round him.--What Napoleon _did_ will
in the long-run amount to what he did justly; what Nature with her laws
will sanction. To what of reality was in him; to that and nothing more.
The rest was all smoke and waste. _La carriere ouverte aux talens_:
that great true Message, which has yet to articulate and fulfil itself
everywhere, he left in a most inarticulate state. He was a great
_ebauche_, a rude-draught never completed; as indeed what great man is
other? Left in _too_ rude a state, alas!

His notions of the world, as he expresses them there at St. Helena,
are almost tragical to consider. He seems to feel the most unaffected
surprise that it has all gone so; that he is flung out on the rock
here, and the World is still moving on its axis. France is great, and
all-great: and at bottom, he is France. England itself, he says, is by
Nature only an appendage of France; "another Isle of Oleron to
France." So it was by _Nature_, by Napoleon-Nature; and yet look how in
fact--HERE AM I! He cannot understand it: inconceivable that the
reality has not corresponded to his program of it; that France was not
all-great, that he was not France. "Strong delusion," that he should
believe the thing to be which _is_ not! The compact, clear-seeing,
decisive Italian nature of him, strong, genuine, which he once had,
has enveloped itself, half-dissolved itself, in a turbid atmosphere
of French fanfaronade. The world was not disposed to be trodden down
underfoot; to be bound into masses, and built together, as _he_ liked,
for a pedestal to France and him: the world had quite other purposes in
view! Napoleon's astonishment is extreme. But alas, what help now? He
had gone that way of his; and Nature also had gone her way. Having once
parted with Reality, he tumbles helpless in Vacuity; no rescue for him.
He had to sink there, mournfully as man seldom did; and break his great
heart, and die,--this poor Napoleon: a great implement too soon wasted,
till it was useless: our last Great Man!

Our last, in a double sense. For here finally these wide roamings of
ours through so many times and places, in search and study of Heroes,
are to terminate. I am sorry for it: there was pleasure for me in this
business, if also much pain. It is a great subject, and a most grave
and wide one, this which, not to be too grave about it, I have named
_Hero-worship_. It enters deeply, as I think, into the secret of
Mankind's ways and vitalest interests in this world, and is well worth
explaining at present. With six months, instead of six days, we might
have done better. I promised to break ground on it; I know not whether
I have even managed to do that. I have had to tear it up in the rudest
manner in order to get into it at all. Often enough, with these abrupt
utterances thrown out isolated, unexplained, has your tolerance been put
to the trial. Tolerance, patient candor, all-hoping favor and
kindness, which I will not speak of at present. The accomplished and
distinguished, the beautiful, the wise, something of what is best in
England, have listened patiently to my rude words. With many feelings, I
heartily thank you all; and say, Good be with you all!

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "On Heroes and Hero Worship and the Heroic in History" ***

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