There has always been a good deal of talk among liberals about one's having the courage of his convictions. Of course it has been held that no one could be a true liberal at heart without having such courage, at least to a fair degree. He must cast fear aside, take not counsel of prudence, nor esteem his reputation in the eyes of the world of any worth; in short, he must be willing to lose his life here in the social world about him in order to find it in the realities of his own intelligence and character. He must gird on his armor and fear no foe. He must already have learned the lesson, ' In self trust all the virtues are comprehended," ere an Emerson came to proclaim it. Free should he be,— free and brave. Free even to the definition of freedom,— 'without any hindrance that does not arise out of his own constitution.'" He must understand that "the world is his who can see through its pretension. What deafness, what stone-blind custom, what overgrown error you behold, is there only by sufferance, — by your sufferance. See it to be a lie, and you have already dealt it its mortal blow." Deal this blow, and "fear nothing but fear."
Such in spirit was the old-time admonition. The ingenuous youth, fired with a new ambition, dowered with a new faith in the world, believing the possibilities of its progress, even "vast and grand," caught the enthusiasm of a new era, and, hurrying to the feet of the teachers of the new dispensation, cried: " Are you in earnest? Then withhold not your sanction, and we will follow the shining line of your thought until it shall come full-circle for ourselves and for the world." And the answer came, clear and melodious:
I call upon you, youug men, to obey your heart. In every age of the world, there has been a leading nation, one of a more generous sentiment, whose eminent citizens were willing to stand for the interests of general justice and humanity, at the risk of being called by the men of the moment chimerical and fantastic. Which should be that nation but these States ? Which should lead that movement if not New England? Who should lead the leaders but the Young American? The people, and the world, are now suffering from the want of religion and honor in the public mind. In Amer
ca, out of doors all seems a market; in doors, an air-tight stove of conventionalism. Everybody who comes into our houses savors of these habits; the men, of the market; the women, of the custom. I find no expression in our State papers or legislative debate, in our lyceums or churches, especially in our newspapers, of a high national feeling, no lofty counsels that rightfully stir the blood. I speak of those organs which can be presumed to speak a popular sense. They recommend conventional virtues, whatever will earn and preserve property; always the capitalist; the college, the church, the hospital, the theatre, the hotel, the road, the ship, of the capitalist, — whatever goes to secure, adorn, enlarge these is good; what jeopardizes any of these is damnable. The "opposition" papers, so-called, are on the same side.
They attack the great capitalist, but with the aim to ; capitalist of the poor man. The opposition is again who have money from those who wish to have money. But who announces to us in journal or in pulpit, or in the street, the secret of heroism,—
Can perform the impossible'?
There is need of a withdrawal from the crowd, and a resort to the fountain of right, by the brave. The timidity of our public opinion is our disease, or, shall I say, the publicness of opinion, the absence of private opinion. Good nature is plentiful, but we want justice with heart of steel to fight down the proud. The private mind has access to the totality of goodness and truth, that it may be a balance to a corrupt society; and to stand to the private verdict against popular clamor, is the office of the noble. If a humane measure is propounded in behalf of the slave, or of the Irishman, or the Catholic, or for the succor of the poor, that sentiment, that project will have the homage of the hero. That is his nobility, his oath of knighthood, to succor the helpless and oppressed ; always to throw himself on the side of weakness, of youth, of hope; on the liberal, on the expansive side, never on the defensive, the conserving, the timorous, the lock and bolt system. It is for us to confide in the beneficent supreme power, and not to rely on our money, and on the State because it is the guardian of money. The wise and just man knows that he must stand on his own feet; that he impart,-, strength to the State, not receives security from it. Everything that tends to isolate the individual—to surround him with barriers of natural respect, so that each man shall feel the world as his, and man shall treat with man as a sovereign state with a sovereign state — tends to true union as well as greatness. Every great and memorable community has consisted of formidable individuals, each of whom, like the Roman or the Spartan, lent his own spirit to the State and made it great. Nothing is mightier than we when we are vehicles of a truth before which the State and the individual are alike ephemeral. Let us put away doubt. Let us live in America thankful for our want of feudal institutions. This laud is as old as the Flood, and wants no ornament or privilege which nature could bestow. Here stars, here woods, here hills, here animals, here men abound, and the vast tendencies concur of a new order. If only the men are employed in conspiring with the designs of the Spirit who led us hither, and is leading us still, we shall quickly enough advance out of all hearing of others' censures, out of all regrets of our own, into a new and more excellent social state than history has recorded.
From counsel such as this the young man returned reinforced in his own thought and desire. He was ready to battle with contending flesh and blood, with the powers of the air. He was born to give the country he dwelt in, if not the world, the benefit of his new, living, beneficent convictions. Yes, he -would obey his heart. He would be loyal to his own mind. Laws, customs, institutions, might all pass before him, pleading their right to be, but he would judge them, approve or condemn. Religions, morals, rites, and ceremonies, all that went to make up the daily routine of the society into which he had been summoned, should answer him and give the true reason for their continuance. Where he felt not respect, no respect would he show. He would see the truth, speak the truth, live the truth. Yes, he would be free. But not alone. He would be an apostle of freedom to all others. He would proclaim the high self-respect he honored in his own individuality as the right, if not the bounden duty, of all others.
To a youth thus minded in what state did the modern world lie before him?
In his ears rang the plaudits of liberty. His first lesson had been the Fourth of July. With bonfire and fire cracker he had celebrated with others. Now with wiser eyes he too sees "the men of the market, the women of custom." Society is revealed to him as a "mush of concession," hospital of fashion and conformity where opinions and convictions are cut and trimmed with the same dexterity that characterizes the manufacture of the clothes the men and women wear upon their backs. In opinion as in raiment he hears it declared, "one might as well be out of the world as out of fashion."
Now, it is not pride of opinion he wills to stand for. He resents the charge that he is beguiled by conceit or egotism. He does not applaud everybody who proclaims opinions and shouts for self-reliance until he is hoarse. But for all sincere effort on the part of individuals to reach individual convictions irrespective of the world's opinion, he has encouragement and nothing but encouragement, warm and glowing. He has that faith which is born of true insight in the constitution of the human mind, by which he knows that the free intellect must in all men work along the same line of truth and fact. To each the truth is revealed, and in concert they exclaim, " I have seen it." " And I." "And I." And thus out of equality of right to seek and find, out of a common nature which cannot but, in each and all, seek and find the truth, the common ground of a harmonious, self-respecting, neighbor respecting brotherhood is discovered where freedom and peace reign in happiest accord. There is no error more prevalent than that which affirms that individual or private thought and judgment tend to set the world by the ears, and establish, instead of peace and harmony, a Babel of confusion and strife. The cry is for some authority, some common standard by which individuals may measure and determine if they have the truth or no- But there is no trouble about their seeing the sun in the heavens. Nobody disputes its presence. And in these times few, if any, doubt the relation science proclaims that the earth sustains to the sun. They who have seen that truth, can they not see other truths — all other truths possible to the human mind? But I can not see for you, nor you for me. We must each see for ourselves. And just to the extent that we and others do see for ourselves, the very possibility of dispute ceases; there is no longer strife or contention.
The young man who has mastered this all-important consideration finds himself out of sympathy with that outer "law and order" which society has proclaimed and forcibly established. The lesson of the teacher — "Let those fear and those fawn who will; stand thou by the unity of the universe, the inner heart of peace and order which freedom and self-respect alone can bring" — is his reassurance against all timid, timeserving counsel.