Address of Mr. Sidney H. Morse
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ADDRESS OF MR. SIDNEY H. MORSE.
Having done ample justice to two dinners this afternoon and evening, it may be supposed that I am pretty well wound up, and ready for the emergency. But one may be wound up in two ways : he may be wound up ready to go, or so wound up he can't go. Whichever may be my predica [ocr errors][graphic]
ment at the present time, I can certainly say as much as this: I am truly glad to come here to-night, and take part in this " Farewell, God bless you ! " to our friend. But I must also say that my presence here does not mean a desire on my part to indorse Mr. Abbot's course during the last three years, nor for any particular year. I take him in the lump; and not because I have agreed with him in opinion, for I have often found that I did not, and sometimes should have liked to go and fight it out with him. But he has a way of insisting upon reasons; and it is not always easy to give a reason. [Laughter.] So I have adopted with him the same course which so well serves me with others from whom I differ. In this evolutionary epoch, one cannot go far wrong, if he begins by admitting what everybody says, and then goes on with his own beliefs. [Laughter.]
I esteem Mr. Abbot as a man of convictions. I honor him as an able and earnest worker. I like him because he will say squarely what he thinks ; and that, I take it, is what we should desire of every man. We want a free and fearless expression of convictions on all subjects that may arise for our consideration. And we must remember also that no question can be held to be so settled and sacred that there may not be entertained in different minds more than one side. This is true not alone of theological or religious questions, but likewise of all social and moral questions. And what is always needed is that all people shall freely give utterance to their convictions, and also exercise the broadest charity toward one another. So only can we get at fact and truth. I have come to believe that there can scarcely be an opinion so'abhorrent to my own sense of right but some honest man may hold it. Truly, there is no accounting for opinions. And now I am led to say that, if there is any one thing that may excite our fear,— and I am not given to fear,— if there is anything we need to fear, it is this : that we shall get so into the habit of saying "we" and "us" that we shall not do justice to others who hold opposing views. It is the partisan spirit that needs to be crushed everywhere. We must not only listen to those who totally disagree with us in their intellectual convictions, but be as ready to respect and honor them as if they and we were in closest harmony. If there has been anything done helpful to theology, it is, I think, the getting rid of a Deity who would cast into a horrible place all unbelievers. We are taught that Deity is in some way enshrined in mankind. Our friend Mr. Potter has written of the "Divine Incarnation in Humanity." Now, if we have indeed got a better Deity,—better because he does not burn unbelievers,—and we are here to represent that Deity in our own conduct, why, we ourselves must not burn them. If we object to a hell for such offenders beyond, we must not make one here On the contrary, we must so tolerate or appreciate all shades of conviction that we can enter into the thoughts and feelings of all people, and thereby be able better to judge of what they may say, and so fairly come to understand one another. The great mass of people, holding whatever opinions, mean to be honest, and are honest. We must come together as man with man, brother with brother, neither saying, " I am holier than thou," but each inviting the other, with " Come, let us reason together." So only shall we get at the truth, and fitly serve each the other.
Let me say a word in regard to what was said by friend Connor. I was a little surprised at his speech ; and yet I must honor him for making it, for that is the way he feels. ■If he had had two dinners, perhaps he would not have felt quite that way. [Laughter.] I cannot think the country is quite so badly off. I can't believe that even our Presidential contest, to which he looks forward without pleasure, is going to be so miserable a failure in all respects. I don't much care which man wins. That will not bother me. He deprecates the wrangling and confusion, the hurrahing and inconsequential strife. But there is this which all this tumult will secure,—a wide-spread discussion of important topics ; not merely on the stump, but it will be all the people talking with one another, discussing the right and wrong of things. Thus, whichever party or man shall triumph, an educational process for all the people will be one of the results. I think there is a great principle lying somewhere between the two parties. I am myself half Republican and half Democrat. [Laughter.] I believe in centralization, one way looking at it; and I believe in extreme State rights, looking at that in a certain way. There is a question herein involved yet to be settled, — a great question, which lies deeper than any merely political movement. It is a question of the kind of civil life that shall prevail throughout the whole country. We ask, What shall become of the country ? Shall the country be equal to its opportunity? Shall there be room for all people to live here and grow here,—for all, every man and every woman, to be himself and herself, and make the most of himself or herself, and the best ? It is not, I say, a question of political fortunes, but a question involving the social life and growth of a great people.
Our friend does not hope for very much, at least in the near future. I may say that I have ceased to hope ; and yet I am not without hope or its equivalent. I don't hope that this or that may happen. It really doesn't matter. I am not cast down if it does not, nor am I greatly lifted up if it does. For all the time I feel and know that there is something in the heart of the world that has got to come out of it, and will come out, in due season. In short, the universe has a meaning that must and will be expressed. The worlds — we — are in the process. So it does not signify whether the "millennium" come to-day, to-morrow, or a hundred or a thousand years hence. It can't come any faster than it can come. If I hadn't faith that this universe, this universal life, meant this successful evolution and achievement, I would end all thought on the subject at once. But I have the abiding, ever-present conviction that all this agitation, all this work, and all these plans,— all the joys, sorrows, all the manifold life we are passing through,— mean — in dice season — the blossoming of the flower of humanity. The race can no more escape the achievement than it can escape the life it has begun.
So, you see, while I do not have hopes, I am not without hope, in what I believe to be the largest and best sense of the word.
And therefore I recognize in this work, in this Free Religious movement, in what our friend Abbot has achieved, in what others have done, in what all have done and are doing, good and helpful contributions. There was a time when I was much disturbed because the Unitarians adopted for a creed the "Lordship of Christ." Rut I have lived to see even their little creed become a dead letter.
Mr. Ames.— No!
Mr. Morse.— No ? The very presence of our friend here on this occasion testifies that it is so. [Laughter.]
Well, this was an entirely impromptu speech. Thoreau used to say that it takes a long time to make a thing short. [Laughter.] Perhaps if I had been better occupied during the day, I might have made it shorter, and have told you what I feel and think better than I have done. One word more, and I will stop. Let everybody say as he thinks, and, whether what he says be right or wrong, it won't matter; for if only the Spirit of Truth lead, Jt will guide into all truth. It is not of so much consequence whether you or I speak the truth to-day, but whether we try to speak it. Every one so trying, with charity and free toleration of one another, instead of dividing more and more into cliques or sects or associations, we shall come more and more to realize that we belong to the whole race, and have one common association round the globe. [Applause.]
(Farewell dinner to Francis Ellingwood Abbot, on retiring from the editorship By George William Curtis)