Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

thing that ever sprang from the turbulence of the ancient democracies.

The French revolutionists, it is said, have been making progress, and will doubtless continue to do so without interruption. But let us look to ourselves, and see, if we can, what progress we have been making, and whether we can really expect better things from France. Now, there is no doubt of our progress in steam, and railroads, and magnetic telegraphs, and in the multiplication of school books, and newspapers, and lecturers. But what of progress in the only thing that deserves the name, and without which all else is only a more rapid march to evil,--progress in the growing power of conscience both national and individual, progress in public morality, in the extended feeling of national moral accountability, progress in rationality, in triumph over impulses and animal recklessness, over demagogueism, and the power of political cant, and a blind party spirit that bows down the neck with a more galling and degrading yoke than was ever imposed on the Carolinian slave or the Russian serf? There is no need of extravagant general statement, or of any railing invective, or of any minute detail. The matter may be easily tested in a spirit of truth and soberness. Let any serious well-informed man look back for a quarter of a century, present to himself a few plain questions, and then let conscience give the answer. Let him ask himself— Are we, as a people, more rational and lessanimal, than in the more youthful and immature years of the Republic? Are we less under the power of unreasoning impulses? Have we, as we have grown older, been more and more inclined to bring all questions of public policy, especially so grave a one as that of peace or war, directly to the eternal law of right and wrong? Do those even, who oppose such a proceeding, or any other evil measure, have the manly virtue to put it solely, or even mainly, on the ground of conscience, or is it not the case, that the very expression, conscience-men, has become a contemptuous by-word among parties? Has there even been manifested a lower vileness than this, in men who pronounce measures unnecessary, unconstitutional, wicked, and unjust, and yet can meet in caucus and gravely resolve that party policy demands their support? Has it been easier, or more difficult, of late, to get up a spurious public sentiment ?' Have our elections, and especially our presidential canvass, been becoming every year more and more pure, more rational, more dignified, more evincive of a ruling desire to call out the highest, and purest, and best tried mind of the nation ? Have the political destinies of twenty millions of souls been regarded every year with a growing conscientiousness, and a more solemn feeling of responsibility as the awful charge increases in importance; or have these tremendous interests been regarded

more and more by all parties as the stocks of the political gambling table ? Has the dialect of our political contests been yearly becoming more and more dignified and more pure; or, on the other hand, more and more assimilated to that of the race-course, or the billiard saloon? Has there been a growing love for law and order? Have jealousies between the rich and poor increased or diminished? Have the domestic relations been regarded with a growing reverence? Has the family been held more and more sacred; marriage more and more inviolable? Has there been luch an advance in intelligence and public virtue, that there is ess encouragement for the demagogue than formerly? Have our newspapers (including the penny and Sunday press) been rising in intelligence, in the manifestation of principle, and a tender regard to the purity of the public morals, as rapidly as they have been increasing in numbers? Have we been less under the power of cant and political catchwords, such as, “country, right or wrong,” “ manifest destiny," “ Anglo-Saxonism,” &c.? In short, have we, as a nation, been rising in political virtue, and political wisdom, and an enlightened view of the duties as well as the rights of freedom, or has it been so far the reverse that even the professedly conservative party, instead of fulfilling its mission, and exerting a healthy counteraction, has sunk from the attitude of an antagonist to that of a mere rival for popular favor, ready to resort to almost any means to get the start in the race of political cant and popular deception ?

Again, how is it with our rulers? In these high places, certainly, this boasted law of human progress should have left it most unmistakable manifestations. Have our public men been every year growing better and better, more intelligent, more pure, more conscientious? Has sound and elevated statesmanship been coming more and more into request ? But here the writer fears that he is getting on delicate ground, and must pause in his interrogatories. The answers are left to every one who can give them seriously, intelligently, conscientiously.

But it may be said, and should be said boldly, that political virtue has been, indeed, at a very low ebb among us. The truest men of all parties are beginning openly to confess and deplore it. We have made a foolish and mischievous distinction between public and private morality. If a candidate for office has not publicly broken the ten commandments, we talk of his pure private life, although that life may have been spent, both publicly and privately, in the basest political intrigue. One public character has been heard to use profane language, or has travelled on the Sabbath. Some feel and talk as though it must bring down Heaven's judgments on the land. The condemnation is just, although it may be extravagantly expressed. But then again, there are others, who, in the advancement of the merest party schemes, would not hesitate to involve an immense nation in the most pernicious measures of public policy; and others, perhaps, of an opposing political sect, who are so much further sunk in principle, as to denounce such measures as wrong and unconstitutional, and yet resolve to give them their support as an act of party expediency that may tell on a coming popular election. But these may, nevertheless, be all honorable men, pure men in private life. There is, therefore, nothing in their characters which should prevent any conscientious or religious man, who may be of their party, from voting for them. It is amusing to observe the manner in which such persons are sometimes commended in the correspondence of our religious press. Of one, for example, it is said, that he regularly attends public religious service, and always kneels or stands up reverently in prayer time ; of another, that his wife is a member of the church, and that the great man himself, although not oa professor, has a profound respect for “our holy religion.” One is commended to public favor because he gives liberally to the support of the gospel, or impartially aids in erecting churches for various and opposite denominations, or, it may be, because some of his slaves are pious. Others of the same class of politicians, may even be themselves professors of Christianity, and to denounce their public course would be a profane intermeddling of religion with politics. A public man has visited the race-course or the card table; it may have been away back in the days of his youth. Still it is remembered against him as an immorality, and urged as a political objection. We have no disposition to condemn the feeling. But here again is a man who gambles incessantly, night and day, not with cards, but with the highest earthly wellbeing of twenty million souls. He, however, is unexceptionable, because he is said to be moral in private life. We believe no distinction to be more pernicious, none, in the end, more likely to demoralize both the public and the private conscience.

One great cause of this state of things has been that politics, we use the word now not as synonymous with the noble science of political philosophy-politics, in the low, ordinary sense of the term, has been regarded as the highest thing in our land. The young men who yearly come forth from our colleges have been led thus to look upon it, and to make it the great aim of life. To be famous as speakers at mass meetings—to get early into public life and office,-to lead political parties, and to rise in this way to political distinction, or, in other words, to become what is called a successful politician, has been made the highest object of youthful ambition. For this they are hardly let loose from the bridle of academic restraint, before they plunge madly into the political race-course. Professional eminence, literary eminence, time, which should have been devoted to the maturing the mind

by the revision of scholastic or philosophical studies, are all impatiently sacrificed to this one absorbing object. Almost everything around them, the example of others, and much of the teaching of a certain class of public lecturers, who occupy at the present about the same position as the Athenian sophists of old, have contributed to the same result.

Now, because politics, thus considered, has been unnaturally and perversely made the highest thing, it has, by an organic law, dragged down everything else, and at the same time sunk itself to a lower and still lower depth. Even in its purest form, and to keep it pure, it needs the constant acknowledgment of something above it. By taking the chief place, therefore, it has lacked the sustaining power of a higher life, and has had no standard from which to measure its own descent. It has wanted that which Plato sought in his Republic, that higher sphere, in which politicians would be philosophers, because philosophy and politics would then be one.

The nature of the evil suggests the corresponding remedy. We want-shall the word be uttered so startling to democratic ears—we want—we greatly want an aristocracy; not of birth, not of wealth, but the true ůp101oxgaria. We want, for the attraction of our young men, a better class, a purer atmosphere, a higher order of life, than that which is commonly termed the political. And this can be found, if only a good portion of the literary, and philosophical, and religious, men of our land, resolve it shall be so. Let them take a stand away from the political, above the political, on a high hill by themselves. It is not in human nature long to refuse to acknowledge what is truly excellent, and to feel its real superiority. Let the common noisy politician, who calls himself practical, and who assumes an air of superiority towards the learned and the philosophical, as being visionary and unavailable–let him be taught to feel that there is something truly above him--a society into which he would be glad to enter, but feels himself unqualified.

There is a kind of reasoning often employed in urging our religious and literary men to take an active part in political life. They should attend political meetings, it is said. They should enter both parties—if in about equal numbers so much the better --for the sake of purifying, or, as it is commonly said, leavening them with Christian influence. Now, all this certainly seems plausible, and viewed a priori might appear conclusive. But experience has shown that this leavening process has been almost always the other way. Instead of their Christianizing politics, politics has leavened them, and pulled them down to its own ever sinking grade, and corrupted the religion and the literature which sought to purify by mingling in its contests. It is then worth our while to try, at least, tbe experiment of some better course. We would not advise any one to neglect the elective franchise, but let religion and literature keep aloof, and denounce, as it deserves, the growing abomination. Let it be understood that there is an increasing class of thinking, serious, high-minded, well-educated, and religions men, who stand far apart from its immeasurable corruption.

Such a course, as we have mentioned, decidedly adopted by our literary and religious men, would do far more towards purifying the political atmosphere, than any of that mingling in it which is sometimes so warmly commended. It would present a noble spectacle to our most ardent and pure-minded youth. To be admitted and have a standing in such an aristocracy, would hold out to them a far nobler object of honorable ambition. It would shame and overawe the demagogue more than any feeble resort to the ballot-box. It would, perhaps, in the end, so draw up politics to its own higher standard, that the right-principled and right-thinking might, without contamination, take a more direct and decided part in public offices, and realize, it may be, Plato's fond dream,—when the political and the philosophical characters should both meet in all who aspire to the noble name of statesmen.

ARTICLE VII.

THE PHILOSOPHY OF EXPRESSION IN ORATORY.

By Rev. Henry P. TAPPAN, D.D , New York.

Sound is a mere sensation; but of what infinite variations it is capable! and when appropriated by experience, and determined and fixed by the intelligent will, it becomes a medium through which the mind communicates with the external world, and mind with mind. In its more delicate and subtle modifications it becomes the living and irrepresentable language of the soul.

Sound, as appropriated by man, admits of two general divisions. First, music; secondly, language. Music is in the soul, because its sensations are there ; and because all its laws of melody and harmony are there. It holds the most intimate connection with our purest and most delightful emotions and passions, both from constitutional concordance and established associations. Perhaps there is an emotion, strictly the emotion of music, accompanying all musica mysterious under-current of feeling in which

« ZurückWeiter »