The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 5
The Law of Compensation in the Would
The Law of Compensation in the Would.
The first would be by making all of them originally and unalterably the same; the second, by making all of them originally and permanently different without any compensating element; the third, by apportioning to each individual a destiny different from that of any other, with such contingency attached to it that every one, by a prudent use of his circumstances, would practically have an average share of the joys and privileges of human existence.
In regard to the first of these schemes, it is clear, we think,! that the moral purposes of cur creation would be entirely thwarted by an original and unalterable sameness in man's condition; for if the present life is probationary, then is there an imaginable path from which we may diverge and to which we may return,—a life in which we may make progress or declension; which supposition must at once dispose of the possibility of the human lot remaining unalterably the same.
In regard to the second conceivable scheme, it would be opposed to all our notions of divine equity to suppose that an original and permanent difference in lot could be assigned without any compensating element; so that
The third scheme seems the only one by a right interpretation page 6 of which we can attempt to solve the various anomalies that are ever and anon attracting our attention.
Every science must pass through what is called an inductive process before it can become deductive in its character; in other words, its phenomena require to be examined, compared, and classified, with the view of ascertaining whether they are pervaded by any common law. In a natural science, when a law is thus established, problems can be solved by it with all the certainty of mathematical demonstration. It is only by some similar process that we are enabled to find the law by which the problems of social and moral science are to be solved. We must not look for rigid demonstration when we are dealing with what cannot be weighed and handled, but we, nevertheless, are not disappointed in finding as great an approach to absolute certainty as is practically necessary for all the purposes to which these laws are available.
The object of our present inquiry is to ascertain, by some such inductive process, how much probability there is that our social life is regulated by a law of compensation in accordance with the only scheme which would harmonize with our notions of divine equity. And this we propose to do by considerations drawn from both analogy and experience.
It will be convenient for the purposes of illustration if we are permitted to imagine every fact, event, or principle as represented by a circle, which is divisible into two parts or segments, sometimes equal, sometimes unequal, the one being, mathematically speaking, the complement of the other. Throughout our arguments we shall endeavour to keep this imaginary divided circle in view.
We cannot reflect for a moment without having our minds crowded with simple instances of a dualism or antagonism everywhere pervading nature. Matter and spirit, light and darkness, heat and cold, motion and rest, now and ebb, storm and calm, action and re-action, attraction and repulsion, male and female, youth and age, life and death, beginning and end,—these are only some of the many antitheses which indicate this law,—and rude page 7 specimens of the imaginary segments, which, when joined in pairs, make up the mysterious circle of a completed idea.
But the analogy is more distinctly seen when, rising from the bare terms which represent nature's forms, conditions, and operations, we glance at those laws which philosophers, by careful observation, have laid down as bases of the leading branches of physical science.
In Mechanics, we find the well-known principle that what is gained in time is lost in power. In Optics, we observe the compensating conditions of the convex and concave surfaces. In Astronomy, we see worlds rolling in their mighty orbits by the joint action of the centripetal and centrifugal forces. In Electricity, we witness the inseparable principles of attraction and repulsion; in Meteorology, the reciprocal action of the rising vapour and the falling dew.
These examples could be multiplied, were they not already sufficiently numerous to prove that a kindred law pervades the entire material universe. Here we have variety and uniformity; in each the principle of antagonism; in each a compensating associate; in each (to use the symbol already employed), the two imaginary segments—the two portions of an imaginary circle.
Seeing that there is a wonderful linking of the natural and the spiritual, of the mechanical and the moral in the world, it will be our practical object to inquire whether there are analogous principles at work alike in individual experience and in the government of social communities; whether the pulse of an ever-acting law of compensation is to be found beating in the whole arterial system of the universe. If this be the case, then ought we to find everywhere a system of conditions equal to the general expression, that "every advantage has its corresponding loss."
We do not pretend to be able, in the brief limits of a single lecture, to exhaust so vast a subject. Our object is rather to suggest and to stimulate individual inquiry. As we proceed, every thoughtful person present will find some new point or other in which he will be able to trace the law suggested. What we intend to touch upon has been noted down rather with some view page 8 to arrangement, and from a desire to show that, in the leading conditions and events of our individual or social existence, the action of this law is morally demonstrative.
In the first place, the very fact that God has made a human being what he is suggests this law. An educated human being, who has awoke from the dream of a perverted life, has been heard to wish himself a dog. In such a wish is implied the admission, that to possess such a nature as man's is to be invested with corresponding responsibilities; that it wore better to have been born with an inferior nature, than, having the superior one, to abuse it. No thoughtful man, with even a fair idea of human capacity, and even a vague impression of human failing, can at times have looked on the placid face of an irrational brute without feeling a sort of uneasy persuasion that this irresponsible animal has perhaps done more to fulfil the purposes of his being than he himself has done. With respect to every other order of being but ourselves, our best speculations are nothing more than an ingenious guess as to what was the Almighty's intention in their creation. Ourselves the loftiest beings in this planet, we are heard pitying the brief and apparently purposeless existence of the tiny insect which, hatched in the sunbeam of a summer's day, lives little longer than during the strength of that sunbeam's brightness. For aught we know, there may be in God's universe an order of being that looks on the highest type of humanity with the same estimate of insignificance as we ourselves do on these fitting ephemerals. Such a view may make us lowly; but the very fact that we are capable of making such a comparison is of itself a proof how great we are: whilst the wondrous revelation that he who made every order of being has taken our form to that mysterious region where he has set his throne, gives a specialty to the nature of man which makes it a tremendous fact that we are human—tremendous because of the ever-present consciousness that there was a purpose in our creation—a mission for our individual life, which, if we fail to fulfil, can never be dissociated from a penalty more terrible than annihilation itself.
But not only is the dignity of our nature compensated for by page 9 the awfulness of our responsibility, but every circumstance about us is invested with a similar class of considerations. As beings, we are neither fishes, birds, beasts, insects, nor angels—but men. Hence the peculiar order of responsibilities we are called to ponder.
We are born in a globe of revolving matter. That is but one appointment of our Creator. On what point of the globe we are to come into being is another appointment of the same Disposer. It may be high up in the climes of perpetual snow; on the burning sands of a central desert; among the wild savages of a Pacific Island; among the cultured sons of a Grecian Republic, or the free children of our own fatherland. The same human compound—body, spirit, soul—with the same functions and the same ultimate destiny! Wonderful fact! how are we to explain it? Do we ask, Can it be true that "God's ways are equal?" Can the stunted Esquimaux, the naked savage, the high-browed Caucasian, the bonded slave, and the free-born Briton—can every type, of every clime, of every people, be so regarded as that each man's circumstances in this great graduated scale may include some compensating element?
Let us go out into the fields and look at the myriad forms of bloom which meet our delighted gaze, and whilst we stoop to the moss, the heather, and the daisy, and rise up to the fragrance of the rose, the hawthorn, and the wild-apple, do we hesitate to call each bloom a flower, and do we ever reason that there is less divine love in the gift of the lily than in the gift of the hawthorn? We instinctively see that the beauty and glory of the whole are strangely dependent on the variety of the display, and we feel that the more delicate fragrance of the tiniest floweret is a compensation it enjoys in being less conspicuous than its statelier companion, whose perfume may be more profuse but less refined. That which we desire becomes the standard below which we cannot believe ourselves to be happy. We are apt to test the different climes and races of the world by our own standard. A filled vessel is a full vessel, whether it be large or small. A satisfied capacity, whatever its natural dimensions, is, in either case page 10 satisfied. The man whose clime, and colour, and build we may pity, perhaps pities us; but if he does not, and would even exchange with us, it must be remembered that he cannot do so without accepting the responsibilities and liabilities of the higher type.
Believing as we do that by all these varieties great mural end's are to be served, we feel that it must be impossible to discover the compensating conditions attaching to each clime or race unless placed in the very circumstances of those from whom we differ. And yet, when we remember bow the less genial climes and less fruitful soils, unfriendly alike to boasts of prey and noxious plants, are tenanted and tilled by races more hardy, energetic, ingenious, and spiritual than are found in those more sunny spots of earth where, amid meridian warmth, perennial flowers and spontaneous fruit, wild beasts roam, venomed reptiles hide, and deadly fevers thin the ranks of life, we are prepared to understand that no less in this than in other departments of the divine economy, the doctrine of a common equality is again confirmed.
There is a sacred, enclosed spot, where the sanctities of our private life rally together: we call it home. There is a wide and open expanse, where bleak winds blow, hard hearts beat, rugged natures fight, and great processes ceaselessly roll out the great events of time: we call it the world. In other words, there is family life and social life. The world is the great whole; She home the distinct province. There is man the citizen, and matt the patriarch. But the world is wisely governed by two classes of forces—man is the expression to represent the one, and woman the representative of the other. There is sympathy as well as passion, tenderness as well as strength; there is the subtile, the delicate, the refined, the elegant,—in fact, all that is implied in the beautiful word feminine; there is the brave, the daring the ehivalric,—all that is implied in the spirited word manly. The former class is as much the supplement of the latter as the latter is of the former. Where each is essential it is difficult to name the superior. In a depraved race, such as the human, the less page 11 obtrusive qualities of the gentler sex may degenerate into follies and vanities; whilst the more conspicuous qualities of the stronger sex may be exaggerated into tyrannies and oppressions. In both eases the proper balance will be disturbed. Woman's degeneracy may deprive man of his rights, whilst man's degeneracy will produce woman's wrongs. This does not, however, then the true relation of both to the family and the world, no more than the true relation of other forces in the world is altered by other abuses or perversions. The true sphere of both man and woman is definable; and when properly recognised and acted upon, the beautiful result of their harmonious co-operation is seen in the happy home and the virtuous community.
In all ages it has been among the uncivilized, where brute force has held the sceptre, that woman has been denied her true position and influence; and uniformly with the march of civilization and Christianity has woman been reinstated in her rights. It is man's interest that woman should occupy her true place; but it is not less her interest that she should not usurp the man's. The tendency of the oppressed is to be the oppressor; and society could experience no greater calamity than the success of those reactionary sehemes and visionary aspirations in which a few strong-minded women have been heard to indulge.
And here, as elsewhere, do we find the law of compensation beautifully at work. Woman, as well as man, may be great and good, useful and happy,—which is all that one or the other ought to desire. In the mart, the field, the camp, the council, the court, it will be his to trades to dig, to fight, to speak, to rule, because for these duties he is best constituted and endowed; but we have yet to learn that there is really less of glory, dignity, usefulness, or even grandeur in the unobserved and unobtrusive sphere of woman's empire. There are some material substances so subtile that no material pincers can lay hold of them,—no material scales can weigh them, and yet they are amongst the mightiest forms of matter. Woman's influence is of this subtile character; it is felt—and felt with all the mightiness of nature's lireatest, most enthralling force—in the time of health or pros- page 12 perity, through the bright hearth, the wholesome meal, the welcome glance, and the cheerful smile; in the time of sickness or adversity, through the soothing hand, the regulated pillow, the patient watching, the discrect counsel, and the resigned look: nor is there any representative of the stronger sex who, in his proper arena of action, has won a nobler meed of human or divine approval,—a loftier fame in the annals of our race,—than has that noble representative of the rentier sex who, during the long winter nights of '55 paced, in solitary grandeur, the erowded hospitals of sad Scutari, and whispered words of Christian solace to the listening ears of her country's heroes.
But we have not only to live in a certain spot of the world's surface, and to live there as man or woman, according as God may have determined our sex, but we have all, in a natural process of development and decline, to pass through helpless youth to earnest manhood, and down again to helpless age. Where now do we see the compensating equation? Immersed in the cares., and invested with the privileges of a full maturity, the man who is unconscious of the insensible action of this principle is heard envying the thoughtlessness of the butterfly-chaser, or pityintr the decrepitude of the silver-haired patriarch. And yet his envy and pity are alike uncalled for. The ringing laughter of the sporting school-boy, like the morning-carol of the soaring lark, belongs to that sweetest music which has the power of a charm on the careworn spirit of the world's busy ones. We have all been young; we have all indulged in uncurbed merriment; we have, cadi of us, many time, though perhaps unconsciously, by the music of our merry laugh, helped to lift off a weight of sorrow, or a burden of care, from some one who was dear to us; but how few of us ever thought we were so happy as we were taken to be; how few of us thought that any one was envying us; and when our sedate parents were smiling on us, and catching the infection of that gleesomc ring, how much more alive were we to the irksomeness of school, the bore of learning lessons, the undesirablencss of going to bed early, the misery of keeping awake in church, and the misfortune of not being old enough to go to evening parties, page 13 than we were to the heedlessness, buoyancy, abandonment, and unconstraint of a joyous boyhood, the simple fact being that we all envied our privileged seniors at least as much as they envied us.
Nor is he less at fault who pities that fine old man, with snowy locks, and clam passionless look, travelling quietly on to the verge of life's boundary, He is judging him from his own standpoint, which is necessarily fallacious, and forgets that our feelings, desires, and ambitions vary with our varying age. Each season of life has its special features. To mix them would be both unseemly and distasteful. We cannot help being buoyant in youth, when the warm blood courses cheerily through our veins, and hope's picture is ever before our eyes; we cannot but feel the pride of strength and rule, when in mid-life we move amid the throng of being, and feel that the destinies of the age are in our moulding grasp. We cannot help looking in sober, though not joy less, pensiveness on the near hereafter, hut off by but a thin veil, when time has shed its snows, and the weight of years has made our step to totter. Few' are the years that roll between the cradle and the most distant grave. Awful is the relation of this life to that which is to come. The middle-aged man knows it not so well as declining life will tell him; and when in the full tide of health, hot in the bootless chase after painted bubbles, forgetful or unconscious of the delusions by which himself is encompassed, he pauses to pity the slower step, dimmer eye, and graver look of a time-worn traveller, he must be told that the compensation for the falling-off of that old man's strength, and relish, and ardour, is a rich experience which enables him to be the beacon of the young—a mine of wisdom which points him out as the counsellor of the middle-aired—a maturity for heaven's garner which makes the vanity of all around him, when compared with the substantial hopes before him, seem like the showman's tinsel in presence of the genuine spangle of an imperial pageant.
From considerations which may be said to apply to man in general, we pass on to such as are more special in their character. Health, affluence, and education, with their opposites,—disease, page 14 poverty, and ignorance,—comprehending as they do most of the circumstances attaching to individual lots, may deserve a passing notice.
It may appear to some an unqualified blessing to have a well-knit frame, a clear head, a steady hand, a piercing eye; to have even an appetite for work, to know weariness only by hearsay, to feel no fastidiousness about food, to enjoy dreamless repose. It cannot be denied that to have these experiences is to enjoy one of life's greatest blessings. But to be thus strong and healthy is, when viewed in connection with the possible contingencies of human life, only in other words to possess the power of feeling with intenser acuteness, the opposite conditions, if by any chance induced—it is to be gifted with a smaller share of that divine thing called sympathy—a fellow-feeling with the weak, the timid, the valetudinarian—an emotion that can never be rightly indulged except by those who have to some degree experienced kindred weaknesses, felt life's fleetness and death's nearness.
On the other hand, it may seem an unmitigated calamity to have a delicate frame, a nervous temperament, a life-long debility,—to be of times shut out from the pleasant hum of life, its fields, its sunshine, its society; but all these privations, when rightly viewed and accepted, may be only hidden blessings, teaching us more effectually than any amount of precept, that life is intended for discipline as well as for work.
To abound in what the world calls wealth, not to know the pinchings of hunger, to be able to command life's luxuries, to have all the social consideration of rank and opulence, is not only a gift, but equally a responsibility.
To be poor is to be devoid of all that is outwardly desirable in being rich; but it is, at the same time, to learn more effectually, by a course of dependence on those who are to supply our wants, our dependent relation to Him who is the proprietor of intermediate agents, and by this mediatorial ladder to climb up to privileges which are the sole and special heritage of the humble in spriti."
To have high mental attributes—genius to conceive, intuition page 15 to penetrate, imagination to expatiate, and ingenuity to contrive; to have these singly or jointly; to have opportunities favourable for their indulgence—books, apparatus, instructions, travel—is to have the sources of culture and refinement, the leverage to earth's dignities, the passport to fame's chronicles.
But to have all these is to have powers which, if not rightly developed and wisely directed, are the sources of intellectual pride, infidel independence, and moral mischief, with all the re morse of neglected opportunities and misused gifts.
To be nothing more than an average man in respect of intellectual power; to be ignorant of the stirrings of genius; to have had no soarings of speculation, no susceptibility for the poetic; to have known no great men, read no great books; to have always lived within the small circle of which an humble home stead is the centre—these are conditions of existence in strange contrast with the preceding.
Perhaps none who have been otherwise endowed and differently circumstanced would desire to exist under such conditions: and yet, apart from the consideration that there are, in all probability, great social and moral purposes to be gained by them, there are undoubtedly, in respect to the individuals themselves, important exemptions and immunities, which, when the grand summation takes place on the review of our being, may fully counterbalance the absence of a higher degree of endowment and a wider sphere of opportunity.
Glancing now at another class of considerations independent of each other, we still discern the action of the same law, if, in the first place, we look at the right of private judgment, and the mysterious doctrine of our common free agency.
Under a good system of training, the practice of forming a self-reliant private judgment should commence in tender childhood. It is the duty of every man to cultivate and practise it through every period of life. No man has the true attributes of manhood who has not formed the habit of having opinions of his own on all questions in which he is called to take an interest. No united confederate action is valuable that is not composed of the united page 16 opinions of men of independent thought The very [unclear: unaninity] of many such men is the secret of the weight which attaches to their aggregate action.
But whilst we admit this to be a right tiling-whilst we cannot respect any man who acts otherwise than from this principle-we cannot but see that there are great responsibilities inseparable from such action, and great inconveniences frequently endured in the assertion of such independence. We have, then, on the one hand, the respect of ourselves, and of all lovers of conscientiousness, by fostering and exhibiting a principal that we instinctively feel to be a proper one; and we have, on the oilier hand, the compensating liability to misconstruction and obloquy from those who, holding themselves and nobody else right, regard all others who differ from them as cither knaves or fools.
In the dress we wear, the food we take, the style we live in the church we attend, the creeds we hold, the profession we choose,—in all these respects, and many more, we may show our independence, and must accept the penalty; a penalty often imposed by the very persons who would most readily complain if their own independence were in the least interfered with.
Closely connected with this is the consideration of that responsibility which grows out of the fact of our moral agency—a free agency as to what we should believe in regard to the scheme of human redemption, and as to how far we should practise the precepts of the Christian code. The faculty of will is not only a glorious privilege, but a fearful gift, involving, as it does, the fearful power of choosing the worse alternative; and therefore, whilst giving us the chance of eternal blessedness, at the same time ren during us liable to all the horror of an endless curse.
The whole career of a Christian is intended to be the result of an intelligent individual decision. A moral coward may seek to avoid the penalty of deciding for himself, by the blind adoption of a ready-made creed—an individual's or a church's, it matters not. A sort of self-delusion may thus be practised, and he may think himself blameless if he afterwards discover that his path has been false and his life has been bad; but it will be well for him to re page 17 member that he can never be exonerated from the exactions of a law which will deal with him only as having an individual will and, therefore as having all the necessary machinery for independent action.
In nothing is this principle more observable than in the strange, though universally recognised fact that self-denial, in every form, is associated with advantages at least equal to those which are voluntarily foregone. Not only is it demonstrable in experience that it is at least as blessed to give as to receive, but also that it is as profitable to abstain as to indulge.
The student realizes it in his abstinence from pleasures, that he may discipline his mind' and enlarge the domain of his intelligence; the merchant when he acts on the proverb that "honesty is the best policy;" the philanthropist when he sacrifices his time and strength for the weal of others; the benevolent when he sows his gold for a harvest of wide-spread happiness; the Christian when he denies himself ungodliness and worldly lusts, that he may increase his own receptive power for divine enjoyment.
There is-such a thing as unintentional self'-forgetfulness, which is more profitable than the most active form of conscious self-remembrance. It is a self-abnegation which, in the words of Wolsey, "loves itself last," and is associated with the reward implied in the divine utterance, "He that loseth his life shall find it." All true humility is a form of it, but the humility must be ascertained to be true. We love humility because of what it represents which is one or other of two things—either that natural greatness, that loftiness of mind which-makes man's highest attainments, when compared with the infinitude of his ignorance, rightly seem too mean to boast of; or that conscious though unostentatious stopping-down of a gifted or disciplined intellect, that a less gifted brother may not be made to feel the distance that discipline or natural endowment has put between them.
When we say that such a humility, such a self-abnegation, meets with its reward, we do not affirm that it is profitable in the sense in which an unthinking world would understand us. It may add no gold to the coffer, no lauds, no title to its possessor. page 18 Its reward may consist in that which he who lives with low purposes never thinks of seeking—even an aristocracy of nature. But how often do we see that it meets with even the very rewards which the man of low purposes, with all his strainings, has never dared to aspire to. Let us look around and sec if it is not so. Do we not see in the world a tendency to put into positions of eminence the worthful men who least seek them? Cincinnatus, the Roman dictator, was twice brought from the plough, not because a ploughman is necessarily the best general of an army, but because the sagacious Romans instinctively felt that the man who seemed so undesirous of office was the most likely not to abuse the irresponsible power of the Roman dictatorship. The glorified in this world have been divided into three classes those who are born to glory, those who achieve it, and those who have it thrust upon them. The last is the highest class, for their unsought glory is the unexpected need of unobtrusive worth.
What is it but this same self-denial which we admire in the man of moral courage—the man who dares to be honest, and faithful, and true—the man who, when he holds a certain opinion, dares to assert it in the presence of a dissenting multitude who may have it in their power to enrich or exalt him—the man who when placed in an office of trust, is faithful to those who have entrusted him, wisely distinguishing between the claims of personal friendship and the imperiousness of official requirement the man who, remembering that to fail is but to be human, no longer clings to an opinion than when he can honestly hold it, and readily concedes to an opponent what is fairly won by [unclear: supernity] of argument. Obsequiousness may purchase a present peace; unfaithfulness may surround us with a thicker belt of transitory friends; Wind adherence to party may save us from the taunts of the shallow; but there is a satisfaction in every act of moral courage far higher than the rewards of expediency, and at least as deep as the annoyance it can provoke.
Inexorably at work do we find this same law of compensation when we look at the wreck of a noble physical frame or of a fine intellectual nature. There is a certain restorative power in the page 19 human body, and a certain rebounding power in the human spirit. It is not a single act of violence to either the one or the other that does any strongly apparent mischief to either constitution. It is the oft-repeated strain that makes the gap through which the tide of life hurries, or that destroys the rewound of man's elastic spirit. In other words, there are fixed sanitary laws for both body and mind, every violation of which is met by an open or insidious penalty.
The principle on which God requires the observance of a Sabbath-day is at work in respect to all physical and mental action. The duty of the Sabbath-day partly grows out of the necessity of a Sabbath—namely, rest or variety of employment; and it is this same rest or variety which we require with respect to the active functions of both body and mind; and just as a social organisation must go wrong when the Sabbath is habitually neglected, so also a physical or mental organization must go out of order if the same law of rest be violated. J f, then, the digestive organs be overtaxed with food, the brain be over-stimulated with alcohol, or the line machinery of the mind be overwrought so that there is not sufficient opportunity for supply to take the place of waste, we must expect in all alike, and in each case for the same reason, a disastrous and premature ruin—a retribution—a loss equal in its aggregate to the sum of minute advantages which have been enjoyed over and above what average requirements railed for.
There is a proverb that "he that eats much eats little," the meaning of which is that he that eats more than he requires has a briefer period of indulgence than would have been allotted to him had he taken no more than what nature called for. This proverb is capable of the more general expression, "lie that indulges much, indulges little;" and, in this form, predicts the sure issue of all excess—the fate of the sensualist—the exhaustion of intellect, and the fearful reaction of inordinate spiritual emotion.
The ocean of life is studded with wrecks—wrecks of every kind of craft. In the voyage which every man has to take, every man sees some of them. The field of our individual observation is page 20 enlarged by our education or social circumstances. In this way some men sec only the wrecks of sensualism; others sec also the wrecks of intellect; whilst others again, with finer vision, see the wrecks of spiritual emotion. The lowest type of humanity can take you to the mound under which a drunkard lies; but it is only the man of cultured mind or of fine emotion whose eye can look up the pathway to the fatal precipice of the literary drudge, or descry the dark rocks of despair on which the [unclear: heludess] skiff of the religious visionary is rushing to its ruin.
We cannot address any intelligent assembly in which there are not some who have personally experienced what may be called the momentum of mental action—an inordinate mental activity which has followed a period of long-continued or intense thought. Mow few students are there who have not felt, on retiring to rest after several hours' intense reading or thinking, the utter impossibility of repose. The steed that has been spurred into a mad canter cannot be checked by one pull of the reins; the pilot-engine that has dashed along the rails in mad emulation of the electric current at its side, cannot in a single moment stay its pace; nor can the spirit of man that, with concentrated gaze, has been penetrating the heights, and depths, and solitudes of thought, by a fiat of the will sink into instant quiescence. No! There is of times, as most of us must have felt, a laxity of our control, an unrestrainable coursing on of our thinkings in one line of inquiry, which we instinctively feel is hurrying us on to a chaos akin to insanity,—like some colossal steamboat, steamed up to its highest pitch of speed, that has lost its helm, and with unchecked fury careers through some unbounded ocean in the darkness and stillness of a starless night.
It is by some such experience as this that we are prepared to understand how so many men, over whose immortal writings we have spent so many delighted hours, whose mighty intellects we have been wont to envy, have sunk into an early grave, and filled a startled world with almost tearful sadness. The pathetic poet who depicted the worn sempstress, whilst stitching a shirt, sewing with duplicate stitch her own death-shroud, was all along doing page 21 for himself the self-same act with the thread of his own existence; and if we knew the private history of the individual names on the long roll of the literary dead, we should find that most, if not all, have paid the penalty of the same excess,—that the inexorable law of compensation has claimed as its victims the too eager aspirants after fame's triumphs and literature's rewards.
Nor is it less true that our emotional nature is under the same government as our intellectual and physical. Here also a great sanitary law is at work, and ever at work, although its action may not be known to the thoughtless. We cannot consciously indulge a wrong desire, nor deliberately foster a bad passion, be it anger, envy, hatred, revenge, or licentiousness, without having to pay the penalty of the gratification by some positive misery, such as disappointment or remorse, or some degeneracy of our character, by which we are made increasingly liable to the indulgence of the same passions, and even more vulnerable in other points in which we may not hitherto have been assailable. A man may have very bad passions, and be in the habitual indulgence of them, and yet be so secret and cautious that the world, or even his intimate friends, shall know little about it. He may enjoy his unholy revel of feeling in silence; and when he has enjoyed it, he may decide to do nothing which the world can see, and he may probably think that the whole of that silent revelry in his soul will count for nothing—that he is, at the close of it, in precisely the same position as he was at the commencement. He is very much mistaken; he has laid a train which may some day shock him by its explosion; the sweet morsel which he rolled in his spiritual mouth was but a morsel of poison, that has penetrated his whole spirit.
Some men there are that seem always trembling on the verge of some anticipated trouble,—that have a presentiment that something is to happen to them, notwithstanding that their friends know nothing about their character or conduct that appears to justify this apprehension. Such a feeling, when it exists, less frequently proceeds from an innocent diffidence than from an alarmed conscience, whose penalty for being outraged by secret page 22 sins is a constant fear of sudden detection in the breast of the guilty.
It is a knowledge of this same fact which should prevent us from being over startled, as we sometimes are, when we hear that sonic one, with whom we are most intimately acquainted, and whose character has always, for aught we knew to the contrary been altogether irreproachable, has suddenly committed some heinous offence which has consigned him to the depths of infamy. If it were possible to read the-secret records of the heart, so that the history of all such persons might be accurately ascertained, we doubt not that the particular act which has ruined them in the eyes of their fellow-creatures would he found to be only one of a long series of similar acts more secretly executed, or planned and purposed in the mind, but, simply for want of favourable opportunity, never executed at all.
There is many a man moving in the most moral society, with a reputation altogether unquestioned by the world, who is thousandfold greater wretch in the eyes of the Omniscient One than the incautious, uucalculating sinner who, at an early stage of his declension, openly acted as his heart impelled him. The convicted offender we banish from society; the secret sinner, whose evil purposes never took the form of observable actions, remains classed among the virtuous. This is man's judgment, and we complain not of it. Since no other is safely possible, But it should teach even the best of us to look less harshly upon those who are under the ban of society, when we consider that most of us might ourselves have been under the same ban at some period or other of our past history, if through some personal imprudent, or the absence of restraining grace, the world had been made acquainted with that one thought or that one act in our lite of which we now feel most ashamed. The open offence, punished be our fellow-man, is often little more than an accident in the history of our degeneracy-The real retribution, the true compensation, for the fostering of wrong desires, the indulgence of evil passions, is the absence of spiritual health, the diseased condition of the soul, the damage done to the whole moral constitution.page 23
Many are the interesting phenomena in our emotional life by which this same principle of compensation is illustrated. The sternness of official life seeks relief in the relaxation of the social circle. Our private friendships and connubial relations are influenced by the attachment we instinctively have to temperaments supplementary to our own. Nor is it less evident in the marvellous antagonism at work in the birth and growth of Christian character, divine strength being perfected in us in exact proportion to the realization of our own natural weakness; whilst there is much to justify the openion that there are spiritual laws in existence quite as necessary to healthy spiritual action in the Christian community as are the laws which regulate the storms and calms in the natural world. The economy of nature seems to demand the whirlwind alike with the zephyr, and there are doubt-less wiser reasons than divine caprice or human fanaticism for those great spiritual tempests which ever and anon agitate, for the purpose of stimulating and purifying, the Christian Church.
We shall only allow ourselves to glance at one other illustration of this great pervading law as seen in the compensating evils of civilised life. It is a well-known fact that the French Academy once offered a considerable prize to the author of the best essay on the advantages of civilizacion, and that, after considering the merits of each essay, they awarded the prize to an ingenious writer, who had come to the conclusion that the evils of civilization were greater than its advantages. Without committing ourselves to anything like so strong an opinion, we still think that the progress of refinement and enlightenment in the world is attended with so many counterbalancing considerations, that we have no right to be profoundly startled at the French essayist's conclusion.
What is implied in refinement but the filing down by social attrition of the angularities that stand out in unpolished character; and how frequently is this smoothness secured at the expense of that originality which gives the charm of variety to social inter-course.
The social progress of a people is advanced by the inventions page 24 of art and the discoveries of science; and yet when we consider that human intellect is under the guidance of a depraved will, we must not be surprised if genius and skill are often employed in base and unworthy objects. Chemistry has not only taught the analyses by which crime can be detected, but also has suggested "combinations by which crime may be [unclear: undiscoverel]. The discoveries in medical science scarcely keep pace with the increased demands on its skill, together with the new forms of disease which civilization brings in its wake. The commercial advantages arising from the introduction of machinery are attended by the wide-spread [unclear: disemploymeut] of manual skill; the liberality of views, fusion of classes, and intermixture of nations, stimulated by steam locomotion and telegraphic messages, are associated with a social unrest and a habit of hurry which have changed the whole face of society; the invention of type-printing with the steam-press as its servant, has so stimulated the production and issue of literature as to diminish originality of thought, and promote superficiality of intelligence, whilst the civil freedom which has so largely taken the place of political despotism, and been succeeded by a widespread propagation of Christian truth, has let go the restraints which held back the bad man from open ribaldry, and the weak, vain, or mistaken man from an open advocacy of his dangerous doubts.
In the progress of this same civilization, no principle has assumed such mighty dimensions as a competitive freedom in every department of remunerating enterprise, and in nothing is the compensating counterpart more conspicuously seen. The dis-establishment of a National Church has been almost virtually accomplished by the numerical and social importance of its dissenting antagonists, Religious freedom, wrong at first from our rulers under the humbling name of toleration, grown bolder by its increasing strength, is now demanding as a light rather than as a privilege the abolition of every rate and impost which is not in harmony with the principle of voluntary support. To say that religious life is not more vigorous and healthy for this great disenthralment, would be to deny one of the mightiest facts of the age, page 25 and yet the most ardent non-conformist must candidly admit, that whilst with one eye he has to watch the palladium of his ecclesiastical rights, with the other he is compelled to observe the rapid triumphs of an aggressive Papacy, and the infecting spread of latitudinarian belief.
Even still more apparent is the action of this principle in the wider fields of commerce, education, and literature. The abolition of the old guilds, corporations, university restrictions, and protective imposts, so profitable to the few, and so oppressive to the many, have been followed by a commercial and literary extension, which has reversed the relative advantages of the many and the few. So much indeed has this been the case, that a reactionary feeling has lately come over society, in whom a general tendency seems again to exist to the re-establishment of protective combinations for the prevention of wider abuse. And where such a corrective is not practically possible, every observing man must with pain have seen how largely the independence and integrity of the tradesman and literary contributor are assailed by the caprice of the selfish many, whose tyranny is too frequently found to be very much in the ratio of the power to patronize or support.
To those who are interested in observing the action of this law, interesting instances of confirmation will be continually presenting themselves. For example, the following confirmatory statement may be met with in a recent article in the Quarterly, on "Darwin's Origin of Species:" "Correlation is so certainly the law of all animal existence, that man can only develop one part by the sacrifice of another. The bull-dog, for example, gains in strength and loses in swiftness; the greyhound gains in swiftness but loses in strength. Even the English race-horse loses much which would enable it in the battle of life to compete with its rougher ancestor."
In a still more recent article in the Times newspaper, entitled "A Plea for Little Birds," an incidental recognition of the same pervasive law is to be found. From an idea that little birds consume fruit and grain to an inconvenient extent, it appears that the French, who appreciate delicacies, and are excellent cooks, have been in the habit of destroying these useful warblers in every available page 26 manner. The number of birds' eggs destroyed annually in France is stated to be between eighty and one hundred millions, the result of which is, that little birds are actually dying out, several species of them having already disappeared. There has been for the last few years a serious falling-off in the French crops from the superabundance of insect vermin. Not only the various kinds of grain, but the vines, the olives, and even the forest trees tell the same tale of mischief, till at length the alarm has become serious. Learned commissioners, appointed to inquire into the causes, have brought a formal report before the French Senate, in which they point out how largely this wholesale destruction of little birds must have contributed to this failure. The poverty of the French harvest this year is attributed to the ravages of a particular worm, which it is the function of a certain bird to destroy. It has been concluded that by no agency, save that of little birds, can the ravages of insects be kept down. There are some birds that live exclusively upon insects and grubs, and the quantity which they destroy is enormous. There are others which live partly on grubs and partly on grain, doing some damage, but providing abundant compensation. A third class, the birds of prey, are sometimes excepted from the category of benefactors, and pronounced to be noxious, inasmuch as they live mostly on the smaller birds; but there can be no doubt but that if the arrangements of nature were left undisturbed, the result would be a wholesome equilibrium of destruction. The birds would kill so many insects, that the insects could not kill too many plants; one class being found to be a match for the other. A certain insect, for example, was found to lay 2000 eggs, of which a single bird was found to eat 200,000 in a year. "Under the mission of Providence," says the author it this article, "little birds, like all other creatures, contribute their part towards the harmony of creation, and when that contribution is intercepted, the effects become visible in a derangement of balance." The inference from all this is, that if the Frenchman would have a greater abundance of corn, and wine, and oil, out of his native soil, he must deny himself the luxury of eating small birds, and the puerile gratification of destroying them.page 27
There is a class of things in which we sec compensation or retribution as distinctly as we see the equal weight and counterpoise in a pair of scales; there are sonic in which we see the weight, but only a portion of the counterpoise; whilst there are others in which the compensation is so distributed or combined with other compensations that we cannot place our finger on any one point and say that there the particular retribution is to be found. In the old Greek mythology there was a goddess named Dike, or Justice, whose office it was not only to punish injustice but to reward virtue, and a Nemesis, or retributory deity, whose office it was to measure out happiness and unhappiness, so that he who was blessed with too many or too frequent gifts of Tyche, or Fortune, was brought to a proper level of humility by loss and suffering,—excessive human happiness being forbidden by the gods. There was in this old mythological teaching the clear recognition of a principle as inseparably present alike in the part and in the whole as is the wondrous law of attraction equally observable in the planet and in the dew-drop, and just as the thoughtful student of nature's phenomena was led by the fall of an apple to imagine the law that binds together and keeps in harmonious action the whole starry system, so may we, by an intelligent consideration of the many individual proofs of compensation, be led to infer that the same great law is in action in combinations that are absolutely immeasurable.
Under the influence of such an opinion we may understand how the aggregate conditions of a whole nation may be no other than the fusion of an unknown number of separate compensations, from which we may gather the important deduction (as one of the morals of this lecture) that every individual, in every action of his life, is performing a sure, though apparently unconspicuous, part in giving form, colouring, and character to the age in which he lives.
We should, however, show ourselves strangely ignorant of human nature if we affirmed or even imagined that human beings would, to any large extent, be influenced by such a consideration as this alone or in chief. The high-toned Christian, the philanthropist, page 28 the moral disciplinarian might be, but the world in general will not be. We crane ourselves up to the appreciation and employment of higher motives by the realization and employment of the lower. In the process of our moral education, we consider in the first instance what will be beneficial to ourselves, and when we have effected our own moral elevation we gradually put forth a benevolent feeling and a philanthropic effort on behalf of others. The first step in the volunteer's patriotism, even when his country is threatened with invasion, is often nothing better than a military vanity. The first step to the Christian's holiness of character is usually nothing higher than the lower motive of fear. In like manner, from the lower teachings of the law of compensation shall we be led to the higher duties which we may find that it suggests.
We have no desire to make a selection of illustrations with the view of supporting a foregone conclusion,—an answering theory. We must admit that in the course of our musings, whilst preparing this lecture, we have been beset with difficulties that have tended to modify any undue inclination to positiveness. We have seen, in some instances, the care that is necessary to distinguish between divine appointments and human perversions. These unnatural unions often give birth to phenomena that seem irreconcilable with our law. Take, for example, such a combination as riches and pride, poverty and licentiousness, old age and ignorance. The riches, the poverty, and the old age separately may be God's appointments: the pride, the licentiousness, and the ignorance are man's perversions. The appointment and the perversion may become so blended as to form one composite condition, for which it may be difficult to find a compensatory equation, and not until we have divorced what man has unlawfully joined together can the law we have assumed be intelligibly applied.
We feel also that we should dismiss our subject without satisfaction to many, including ourselves, if we affected to forget that from the mysterious relation that exists between this and a future state, the full solution of many of the dispensations allotted to ourselves and to our fellow-creatures must not be looked for on page 29 this side the grave. We have no doubt that since we assembled here this evening there are many who have had forced upon their attention the cases of intimate and dear acquaintances who have had providential allotments, for which no explanation we have so far offered will appear a satisfactory solution. Unhappily, it requires no fruitful imagination to provide, as illustrations, heartrending domestic scenes, which it would perplex the mere philosopher, without the aid of his Bible, to reconcile with any principle of compensation; and if he who now addresses you confine himself to the results of his own observation, he has no fear that they will be found too true representatives of what are familiar to others. For example, who of us is not acquainted with sad reverses and crushing bereavements in families proverbial for piety, where anything awful in the way of a visitation seemed peculiarly unnecessary, so far as any moral end would be served; and how often have we discovered the moral meaning of the whole when we have become better acquainted with the circumstances that preceded, and the moral issues that followed, these mysterious events?
And yet, when we consider how lowly is the highest watch-tower from which we can observe God's dealings, compared with the height of that heaven whence omnipotent wisdom is ever directing the complex government of the universe, it requires little humility on our part to conceive how possible it is that the unsolved anomalies by which we have been startled are no less in harmony with infinite love and infinite justice than is the regular, undisturbed mechanism of an ordinary moral life.
So also, when in the bosom of some quiet family we see a staring idiot, or in the cold streets of a great city we fall in with a shivering beggar, or in the home of our own kindred we are linked in affection to a beautiful child, on whose sightless orbs the light of heaven never glanced, on whose sealed ears the accents of love never tingled, from whose silent tongue the prattle of infancy never fell, we are tempted to inquire, as of old did Christ's disciples, "Master, who did sin, this child or his parents, that he was so born?" We feel that in many instances the only answer we page 30 can elicit is the same as that returned by the Saviour, "Neither hath this child sinned nor his parents, but that the works of God should be made manifest in him." In the economy of God's providence the infirmity of the blind beggar was undoubtedly permitted (as this answer would imply), in order that great moral ends might be effected from the performance of a miracle. We know not how far Christ's answer will apply when the question is taken from that particular case, but it is clear that in all cases which are not explainable by the seen action of a retributory law no other answer can so safely be given. And yet it may again be asked, What is the compensation for such infirmities and privations that appear not to be penally inflicted! May we not also ask why the red lightning smote that grand old oak, with the gentle lamb that was browsing under its shelter, and in its resistless course scathed the sweet honeysuckle and the tiny bee that had just lighted on its petals? The cases may appear different, because the analogy is drawn from the lower life of plant and brute, but we must not forget the authority that points us to the lily of the field and the fowls of the air for assurances of our heavenly Father's regard, not for them only, but also for ourselves.
Mysterious and inexplicable as are many of these privations, there are not wanting several beautiful instances in which the presence of this law is strikingly asserted "We believe that some physiologists affirm that the vital force in our system is distributed in certain proportions over the thinking, the digestive, and the locomotive organs, and that when it is not demanded in any one of them it is distributed over those that remain in action. If there be truth in this, then may there be truth in a kindred theory, in which we have sometimes indulged when endeavouring to account for the acute perception and retentive memories of the blind, that when any one of the organs of sensation is lost, the sensational power thus released is distributed over the remaining organs, in order that, in the way of compensation, an increased intensity may be given to each.
We arrive at truth only by the consideration of varied kindred phenomena, and we should come short of it in the present case if page 31 we failed to "remember how many touching evidences of divine tenderness and pity are mingled with dispensations that have the semblance of sovereignty or caprice. The world never, without good reason, originates and sustains a proverb, and the world-wide impression that "God tempers the wind to the shorn lamb" is based on incidents that are cherished in the records of every heart and home.
Nor is it more apparent in those events in which the ingredients of joy are sent to mingle with the cup of sorrow, than in those aggravated, dispensations which have originated another proverb, that "life's troubles never come single;" for whether we are ignorant or unobservant of the fact, it is not the less true that not more are our great sorrows sustained by the elasticity of an associate joy, than they are reduced by the presence of other companion griefs, each absorbing its own share of sadness. 80 strange and apparently contradictory a statement may by some be marvelled at, but just as certainly as the mind is more effectually refreshed by a change of occupation than by a total cessation from thought, so is it probable that the anguish of an afflicted spirit may of times he most effectually relieved by a rapid succession of new calamities, whose new claims will either break up into so many fragments the great sorrow that is holding down the spirit, or, by successively demanding it, will preclude the dreadful consequence of the minds being too long engaged in the contemplation of one single idea.
It would appear, then, from an examination into these mysterious dispensations, that in this as in other provinces of the divine government, the Almighty teaches us so much as will fully suggest the great laws by which to direct our conduct, and that he allows so much mystery to remain as to impress us with an awful sense of his own sovereign power, and an humble conviction of our own limited comprehension, but yet no more than we have a right to expect as moral agents, on whose faith a certain extent of demand must always be made.
But when we review the entire evidence, the dualism and antagonism which exist in the simple forms of nature, the compensating conditions which are found in the laws of science, in the page 32 general lot of man, in the special circumstances of our individual destinies, and in the varied phenomena of social, political, civilized, and religious life, we hope that more than sufficient has been said to establish the probability, that the world is under a great pervailing law by which every privation may be said to have an answering advantage, and every gift an answering responsibility; nor does it require any higher endowment than common sense, or any other condition than an honest docility, to gather from this beautiful doctrine a rich revenue of profit; for under its teaching we may henceforth link lessons of responsibility with the lot of the rich, and lessons of humility with the lot of the poor, and thus learn the wisdom of the prayer of Agur; duty we shall associate with health, and discipline with sickness; we shall believe that the virtuous are not free from foibles nor the vicious altogether bad; that there is no crown without a thorn, no cottage without its comfort, no force without its weakness, no feebleness without its strength, no excess without its penalty, no self-denial without its blessedness, no freedom without its thrall, no talent without its usury. We shall, in a word, see the wisdom of summing up our duty in the narrow channel of a threefold ambition,—to be good, charitable, and content; good, rather than evil, because it is better to feel a responsibility than to anticipate a penalty; charitable rather than intolerant, because it is better to be imposed upon than to run the risk of doing an injustice; content rather than repining, because it is better to under-estimate our merits, than to question the justice of a perfect God.