Introduction (Present)

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THE PRESENT.

VOLUME I. SEPTEMBER, 1843. NUMBER I.

INTRODUCTION.

The Present is the Name given to the Monthly, whose first number is here offered to its readers, because this name most exactly decribes the ground it seeks to occupy. With gratitude for the Past, whose toils reclaimed the mountains, cleared the woodlands, fenced the prairies, which we inherit—and with hope for the Future, who shall change our quaking hogs to verdant meadows, our sandy wastes to gardens—would it aid the bands of fellow-workers in the broad field, which the Present offers to our care, ploughing furrows, scattering seed, weeding, reaping, as the day may bid. Its end will be gained, if it can be a means of quickening confidence in the sublime destinies of this Christened though not Christianised Anglo-Saxon Race, in this land of their adoption, with their mingled traits of reverence and boldness, loyalty to custom and courage for adventure, pertinacity and earnestness, enthusiasm and practical skill; with their religiousness and free thought, their honor of woman and blunt courtesy, their aristocratic freedom, as yet imperfectly tempered by charity, their capacity of tender and poetic feeling, too much hidden under rough speech and dull manners, their power of growth and sense of young vigor, still imbued by the harsh rapacity of pirate ancestors. Its special aim will be, to show the grounds of reconciliation between the sects and parties, native and foreign, the controversies, theological and political, the social reformers and prudent conservatives, the philosophers and poets, prophets and doubters, which divide these United States. It aspires to teach, that all earnest seekers of holiness, truth, humanity, are co-laborers, under the leading of one heavenly hand, and that our Nation has a plain and urgent duty in common with the Grand Fraternity of Christendom, to advance the Reign of Heaven on Earth. May it do something, in however humble a way, to call out fidelity to the Divine Guidance in this land of promise, to which Providence led our forefathers in the fullness of time.

There is the appearance of Cant, and unquestionably the danger of Cant, too, in the use of formulas, and yet it is convenient, sometimes, to condense meaning in a brief sentence ; therefore, it may be said, that the call of the Present is for the Union and Growth of Religion, Science, and Society. We need this Union ; for as heart, lungs, and limbs combine to circulate our life's blood, so must inspiration, wisdom, and industry cowork, to rear in healthful symmetry the living organisation of Humanity. We need this Growth ; for, whatsoever is not assimilating fresh nutriment, has passed its prime, and is more or less rapidly dying, and no one will pretend that Religion, Science, and Society have yet reached maturity. We need fulness of spirituality ; in its due place and proportion we need equally perfected social relations amidst the fullness of material beauty ; and reason, warmed, enlightened, animated by divine life, must mediate between them, and wed the Church and State in indissoluble union. Religion tends necessarily to form itself into Science, and through Science to embody itself in Society; and happy conditions of existence react upon our powers of intelligence, and prepare them for admitting purer influence from the Eternal world. Every Age is a peculiar one ; it can not repeat the experience of the past, neither can it anticipate the fulfilments of the future ; its work is to unfold the essential principles of human nature, in such forms as are fit in their season. The peculiarity of our Age is, that having passed through an era of almost universal religious, scientific, and social infidelity, we are entering a new era of yet more universal faith, which demands its own worship, philosophy, and social arrangements. Is the hope extravagant, that its laws may be more nearly modelled upon the types of divine justice ; that its doctrines may more adequately express absolute ideas ; that its reception of goodness may be more perfect than earlier times were capable of ? Can we hope less ? Our need to-day, though different in appearance, is intrinsically the same with that which all generations of the past have experienced, and which all generations must feel who are to follow, till Love, Truth, and Beauty possess our race, and fulfil the destinies of Humanity on Earth.

This little Monthly, then, has quite liberal aims ; and it may justly be asked what are its editor's qualifications. With unaffected sincerity he confesses that he has none, other than the craving after a temper and spirit more in harmony with our privileges, a willingness to admit and abandon error and folly when exposed, independence, to some degree, from sectarian and party bonds, faith in the present inspiration and providence of God, hope growing ever stronger in the tendencies of the Age to universal good, and a devoted love for the Christian-German race in this fresh soil, where opportunity summons them to mould the experience of the old world into forms of life, more truly fulfilling the laws of heavenly order. A person could scarcely have a clearer sense of unfitness for any thoroughly worthy work, than that with which he commences this publication ; but with all deference let it be added, that he does not feel alone in this consciousness of insufficiency; a goodly company of editors, authors, lecturers, speakers, and teachers of all kinds, throughout this country and Europe too, seem to be in fellowship. Indeed, it may well be doubted whether any period of history can be pointed out, when there was anything surpassing, if resembling in extent and degree, the conviction which this age has of its superficiality in character, intelligence, and performance. All men are not conscious, to be sure, of such incompleteness in themselves ; but each says it of the other. We are a generation of Critics. Doubtless there are a few still professing to be wise ; who, steadfastly looking on rusty timepieces, the pendulums of which have long since ceased to beat, loudly declare what hour it once was. Doubtless, there are others, who mistake the rapid-circling hands of a watch running down, whose main spring is broken, for the progress of time. But it needs only moderate sense and conscience, to be aware that our theologies and philosophies, our worship and governments, our home-lives and social relations, our science and industry, our letters and art, do not mark aright the rising of the Sun of Righteousness towards, higher noon. Our dials have lost their gnomons. There is a general make-believe assent, a latent denial, a ridicule of high pretensions, a suspicion of all who claim to have solved doubtful problems. Men like playful badinage better than assertions, which seem inflated in proportion to their solemnity; they turn to practical details from what look like the fog-banks of unsettled principles ; and silence, with many of the wisest, is felt to be more eloquent than speech. But this is not because we are Sceptics. The mad age of Unbelief lies behind us, painful, hideous, like a fever dream. It is the presence of Faith, laboring in the souls of nations and men, not ready yet to be born in articulate expression and complete deeds, which makes us thus at once dissatisfied with dead usages and dogmas, and disgusted with mere embryo theories and plans.

There is a characteristic of the age, and especially of this country, which seems to cast light on present duties. It is the unexampled absence of leaders, of persons so plainly preeminent and far advanced that they constrain us to follow. With some observers, this is taken as a proof that we are mired in the bog of a lawless and irreverent equality. But others see here a promise, that Humanity is mounting to a broad table-land. Now and then, a man among us stands up on the stilts of his conceit or the rolling stone of some new notion, and, keeping his footing midst the multitude for a moment, cries out that he sees the way. But his sect, if he form one, soon leave him, and hurry on. There is a vague and yet profound consciousness that we are thrown, as men have not so much been heretofore, every one upon his own energies ; and yet there is an equally deep and general feeling, that our strength is in united consciences, thoughts, wills, rather than in solitary efforts. The prayer of to-day is not, " Give us a Man, a Great Man, a Prince." He was given eighteen centuries ago; and wonderful is it to see, how on all sides appears a movement, rapidly increasing, to rally the bands, which scepticism had scattered, around Jesus Christ, as the divinely commissioned Head in the kingdom of Heaven on Earth. The prayer which now is swelling in all hearts is : "Give us Men, Great Men, Nations of Prophets and Princes, strong, each in his peculiar way, bound in one by mutual reverence and usefulness, worthy of this Son of God and Son of Man, who called his disciples Friends." In these crowds of authors, pressing forward through all manner of books, pamphlets, and periodicals —in these multitudes of speakers, who, on highways and byways, at the corners of the streets, in conventicles and social circles, are preaching their gospel—still more in the thousands of patient thinkers, who sit watching for the dawn with their fingers on their lips, may be seen, perhaps, the signs of that coming era, when men " shall no longer teach every man his neighbor and every man his brother, saying, know the Lord, but when each shall know him, from the least to the greatest." Chaotic enough are now our impulses, opinions, and strivings; but the hour may be, heaven grant that it is, drawing nigh, when a voice of infinite harmonies shall sound throngh the darkness, " Let there be light."

Meanwhile, we should neither deny nor forget our present freedom and responsibilities. Through the willing souls of his children does the Infinite Father always speak. Alternations of thoughtful silence, with frankest utterance, not in the few, but the many; not in official, professional teachers merely, but in all; not through the pulpit or press alone, but through every avenue of communication, is what we Americans need, have a right to claim from one another, and partially, though under the incumbrance of foolish prejudices, already have. There is no arrogance, while admitting with one breath dulness and inadequacy, with the next to declare boldly, without apology or compromise, such vision or prophecy, reproof or counsel, as may seem timely. This equipoise, between humility and confidence, appears to be the true posture just now for all men. We are all in error; all learning together. It is not a season for claims to infallibility, nor for insipid concessions. The spirit abroad is too earnest. We want not trimmers, paying court at once both to old and new; but sincere men, standing lowly before their God, and erect among their peers, who will say, without either presumption or baseness, without pertinacity or explanations of inconsistency', what seems to them, for the moment, true. This tone of blended reverence and hope the Present will strive to keep. Fortunately, the class is already large of those who are endeavoring to take this difficult position, and the instinctive sympathies and judgments of the best and truest come to their support.

Fully to tell, what all vaguely feel in relation to our prevalent piety, knowledge, and social action, without denial of good, still vital, while cutting off and casting aside what is plainly dead, without servility to the established or triumph in novelties which are yet untried, with sympathy for the past, as his relaxing fingers drop the sceptre, while we pay due welcome to the present who succeeds to reign, needs rare combination of conscience and genius. Rash joy, in what is new, is more disgusting than even bigoted fondness for ancient idols. Frivolity is as false as it is insolent, while garrulous tales, of our ancestors' greatness have the charm at least of gratitude. Yet it is tiresome to be made to wear the cast clothes of forefathers, as if this age could yield no working and gala dress; and it paralyses courage to gaze on these armor-suits of buried giants, as if no brave acts could now be done. We have our labors and conquests, our discoveries and adventures, before us; and if we truly honor the past, it will teach us the lesson, " Work while it is day." No one man, no one nation, but only the combined voices of the Race, can give volume and clear articulation to the word of Conservative Reform, which all lips stammer to utter, which all ears long to hear. Therefore, in every sphere, however small, let each declare, that Love is the Law of Liberty, that Faith is for ever a Free Inquirer, that Doubt of enlarging Good is virtual Atheism, and Fear of Progress the unpardonable Sin. So let us attest the truth, that the Heavenly Father recreates his universe and regenerates his children, by causing their perennial Growth.

W. H. C.