Dedicated to the Ministers and Members of the Presbyterian and other Orthodox Churches.
The grand business of life is not to be a king or queen, a president, a member of the bar or the legislature; it is not to wear fine clothes, to live in a magnificent mansion, or to be respectable; we are not here to be Methodists, or Baptists, Free Masons, or Odd Fellows, but to become perfect men and women. Whatever helps us in this direction is a benefit to us, and whatever hinders us is an injury.
To be true men and women we do not need to have anything new grafted into our constitution; we are not born devils that can only become men by some process of transmutation through which we must pass, or go to a devil's abode: the baby is a young man or woman as much as the sapling from an acorn is a young oak.
There is not an organ or faculty of our constitution with which we could dispense without injury, and the evil of the world only comes from an excess of what is really good. The man is a glutton; but the appetite that makes him one is essential to his life, for if it was destroyed he would for to eat and speedily die. Another man is guilty of sexual excesses that sap the foundation of his life by draining away his vital force, but the faculty that leads him to do this is essential to the perpetuation of the species, and without it the race would in a few years become extinct.
Nor is there anything lacking. The elements that make the most perfect musician exist in the least musical; the forms of beauty that teemed in the brain of Raphael, that trooped forth at Shakspeare's call, lie latent in every soul as the photograph on the plate before it is developed: the worst man contains in his soul an ideal of goodness that he cannot but adore.
We may be sure that manhood is something of immense importance. For this the planet "cohered to an orb." Millions of years were spent in preparation for it, and thousands of millions of models were made and discarded, before Nature could say, I have produced a man. From the day of his appearance she had been incessantly employed in perfecting her chief work; and now she calls upon us by the voices of our fellows, and by her own voice in our souls, to assist in completing what she has but begun, the labour of the ages, the production of perfect man.
Whatever may be the case in other conditions of being, it is certain that manhood here depends largely upon physical development. The spirit of the man sees with the eyes of the body, and to see well the eyes need to be in perfect condition. It is possible, as the case of Laura Bridgeman proves, for a person born deaf, dumb, and blind to become educated and grow into manhood, but the process is a slow and difficult one, and the highest types of manhood can never be developed under such circumstances.
As the astronomer needs good telescopes with which to explore the heavens, and can only do the best work with the most perfect instruments, so to make of ourselves men of the highest type we need a body in perfect condition, and kept in that condition continually.
What a satisfaction it is to know that the power to do this lies in page 4 among the trees for ages, but their botany is restricted to the best way of cracking nuts and extracting their contents. "We need to know how to study, and for this purpose books are of the greatest value.
Here is a specimen from Plympton, a pebble which I broke out of a boulder of conglomerate. The first thing to be learned from it is that a ledge of this material must exist somewhere to the north of where it was found, for it is a drift boulder, and since the direction of the drift was from the north to south, its home must have been north of where it was found. It carries us back to the time when New England was covered with an icy mass thousands of feet in thickness, slowly moving over the land, but with resistless force it breaks off masses of rock which are pushed southward, and being rounded as they go become boulders, which, when the mass eventually melts, are left where they lie, to the great wonder of those who discover them till we learn their story. But since the boulder is composed of pebbles cemented together, there must have been a time when the pebbles were uncemented and formed a gravel-bed; and since the pebbles are of irregular shapes and sizes, some of them quite large, it appears they must have been swept down rapidly by some mountain stream to a neighbouring lake, or into the ocean, where they were piled up. When this was done the pebble itself gives no information, but from what we know of similar pebbles in conglomerate beds, one such bed at Fall River, immediately under the coal measures, there is good reason to believe that it took place just before the coal measures were deposited. The pebbles at the sea bottom by pressure became converted into a bed of solid pudding-stone or conglomerate, which must have been heaved from its resting-place and exposed where the icy mass could break off the fragment that made the boulder. But the pebbles must have been made from some mountain mass, from which the rock was riven that the river wore into pebbles. Can we get any clue to this? We crack the pebble and find it to be quartzite. And what is quartzite? Sandstone so heated as to become crystalline in its structure when cold. We are carried back to a time then when the ledge from which the rock was torn to make the pebble was a bed of sandstone; but sandstone is, as we know, nothing but sand washed down by water, accumulated in masses, and hardened down by pressure. Can the pebble tell us when this was done? It can. On examining the cracked surface we find fragments of small bivalve shells called lingulae; shells belonging to the same family live in the ocean to-day, but the particular species that we find in this pebble lived only during the early part of the Silurian period, when the Pottsdam sandstone was laid down, and we find just such shells by millions in the Pottsdam sandstone of Wisconsin. We are carried then still further back by many millions of years to the Pottsdam period, before the continents were brought forth or the mountain chains were elevated. Over what is now the United States lay the waters of a shallow ocean, into which rivers from the land that lay to the north poured down sandy sediment. In that ocean were myriads of bivalve shells, their occupants anchored by protruding feet pushed into the sand, while their bodies were swayed to and fro by the rolling waves.
Nor is this all we can learn from the pebble. The change of the sandstone into quartzite by heat and coal-black appearance of the shells in the pebble, tell sometime of disturbance, when the sandstone that made the quartzite was sunk to a great depth by the overturning of the strata, and heated till it was at least red hot, then in after ages heaved into a mountain chain, of which the hills around Boston are the worn-down representatives.page 5
This is an illustration of what may be learned from the commonest material that lies everywhere around us. If we knew enough, we might trace the history of every animal back to its origin, for all are the result of the united influences of all their ancestors from the dawn of life, as we are what all our ancestors have made us, added to what we have ourselves done during life.
But to study in this way requires books, and if we wish to be men standing on the vantage-ground which the most intelligent of our race has built, we must have access to books—good books, and plenty of them, and we must take the time necessary to make their acquaintance.
More than this, however, is necessary to make the true man, "the tall man, uncrowned," of whom the poet sings. We have only been talking about the foundation and the lower storey of what we are to build. With a sound body that disease can no more seize than frogs breed in a boiling spring, with a mind well informed on science, and able to read the volumes that are everywhere open for our instruction, we must have a manly morality, higher by far than that of courts and lawyers. It is not enough that we keep out of gaol,—nay, the best of men sometimes get in there, because they are so good. It is not enough that the church is satisfied with your conduct, and your family prefers no complaint against you. A man serves the most exacting of all masters—himself. Blessed is he who strives daily to live the life which the intelligent spirit within is for ever presenting for his imitation.
There are certain principles of morality that are common to all religions, such as temperance, honesty, truthfulness, chastity, charity. I need hardly say that true manhood includes all these, and enforces them more fully than they are generally taught. The temperance of manhood does not discard rum, and console itself with a pipe, a quid, strong coffee and opium; nor does it destroy the health of man or woman by sexual indulgence. It does not loudly blame the man who drinks a glass of cider and then becomes intoxicated by religious excitement, and denounce every one who does not become equally intoxicated. There is a vast amount of religious drunkenness, and many persons are constantly employed in fostering it. I warn you against it, for there are few influences more detrimental to manly growth than this. Shun meetings that are held for such purposes as you would shun grog-shops, that are less injurious to men's bodies than these are to men's souls. When men go to grog-shops, they shout and sing and talk irrationally, and when men become religiously intoxicated they do the same thing;—they shout, so that they can be sometimes heard miles away; they sing, and generally songs in which the unexcited can see neither sense nor poetry. Grog drunkards frequently swear, revival drunkards commonly pray; but the prayers of the one class have no more reason in them than the swears of the other class, and are no more likely to be answered. When a man gets drunk with rum, he has to pass through a period of depression, when he is said to be sobering off; those intoxicated with religious excitement pass in like manner through a period of depression when they come to their normal condition, as any one can learn by listening to the experiences of the victims. As the one kind of excitement unfits the man for sober thought, and prepares him for the lunatic asylum, so does the other, and the victims of the two may be heard howling side by side together.
I know this religious excitement is got up under pretence of saving men's souls; but their souls were never in any danger of being lost, and if they were, that would be the last process that a sensible man would think of for saving them.page 6
Is the innocent baby lost, or in danger of being lost, when it first comes into the world? A devil might be supposed to manage a world better than to allow of such a horrible possibility as that. If the baby is not lost, is the sportive child? At what stage of life do they become lost? I am reminded, when I hear men preach about being lost, of the man who fell into a pit on a dark night, but managed to seize a rock that jutted out of the side as he was going down; to it he clung for the rest of the night, loudly calling for help to save him from the certain destruction that awaited him if his strength should fail. When daylight came what was his chagrin and yet delight to see that all night he had been within six inches of the bottom. So to-day men shout to poor souls who dream they are falling headlong down the pit of perdition, "Hold on to the rock, or you are lost; cling to the Cross, or you sink into a pit, from which no power can deliver you." When they open their eyes they will discover that there is no pit, save the pit that their ignorance had dug;—the solid ground is under the foot of every soul. All that we need is to climb the hill of manhood, and bless ourselves in the rays of the sun of knowledge which shines for all, but is concealed by the fogs and mists that gather in the valley below.
Our manhood will include honesty of the highest type. I do not call that man honest who deeds his property to his wife, and pays his creditors fifty cents on the dollar, and continues to live in a mansion on the money he has stolen from his trusting fellows. No honest man lives in a fine house, drives fine horses, or lives luxuriously, while his creditors dun him in vain for what, if he was honest, they would not need even to ask; for nothing is more pleasant to an honest man than to pay what he owes. I do not consider that man honest who lives in idleness on the produce of other people's labours, whether he is rich or poor. The true man cannot thus live at the expense of his fellows.
The honesty of true manhood will not obtain a living by any business that is not of benefit to mankind. A man can no more honestly sell tobacco than rum, and the time is coming when the one crime will be written down as black as the other.
The truthfulness of manhood will no more lie for God than for man. Fashionable lies, political lies, religious lies, and family lies are all brothers, and he who entertains the one opens his doors for all their relations. The highest type of manhood only goes with the most perfect truthfulness and honesty. I do not believe in the philosophy of Jesus. I have no faith in his supernatural claims; but for the transparent truthfulness, the downright honesty and heartiness of the man, I love him. No skulking, no dodging, no courting the rich and the influential, no flattering the congregation, and Judas going round with the bag to raise money to buy a synagogue. His honesty and unselfishness smites the whole world in the face.
True manhood will be chaste; not with the chastity of the Shaker, who denounced the most natural instincts as demons that must be cast out, instead of regarding them as angels, who are ready to contribute to society's welfare and the individual's highest good. All natural desires are legitimate, and all that is needed to render them a blessing is, that they be controlled by enlightened judgment.
The true man will be self-centred. The multitude are led by a few, as one buffalo determines the course of a herd, and one wild swan guides a flock. Not thus are perfect men made. Grant, a tanner in Galena, is a nobody,—no one who saw him ever seems to have supposed that there was page 7 the stuff in him to make a hero; but as soon as he is thrown upon his own resources, and great responsibilities are thrust upon him, he grows man-ward a foot a day. A military hero is but a poor specimen of a man at best, but his development illustrates how a man will grow when he depends upon himself, and snaps the chain that binds him to the chariot-wheel of another. Allow no man or body of men to enslave you, or you are a baby, and must continue so. Suspect the man who comes with a chain in his hand, though he comes in the name of Jesus, God, or religion, and professes that he is only concerned for your soul. Listen to him, and allow him to magnetise you, and you are undone; his gyves are on your limbs, and you are a slave.
The true man has but one master, and that is himself; every other is a tyrant, whom, to save your manhood, you must resist. Take a Roman Catholic, who has accepted a creed, a church, a pope, and a priest for master; in the same proportion in which he is a good Catholic is he a poor man. He is good in the church sense, when his will is lost in the will of the priest and the church, and his faith is swallowed up by his creed. The moment he begins to exercise his individual judgment, and doubt the church creed, he becomes a poor Catholic, and this by the exercise alone of the noblest prerogative of manhood. It is the same with all Protestant sects, and even Christianity itself. "He that believeth shall be saved." Not more easy is it for a chip to float down stream than for a child to accept the faith of his father, of the people around him, and say I believe in Jesus, the Son of God. No manhood is exercised in such faith, and when we believe that such a faith, or any faith that results from it, will open the gates of Paradise to us, we have dug a grave for our manhood. Doubt comes by exercise of what is the glory of the man, and it would be nearer the truth to say, he that doubteth shall be saved from superstition and folly, and he that unthinkingly believeth shall be damned by accepting that for truth which is only a lie.
The true man will be fearless when he is on the side of what he believes to be right and true. We are a race of cowards, for ever looking over our shoulders to see who is in the procession to keep us in countenance. March in the way your compass points, though you march alone; —if you are in the God's highway, you will have company enough by and by, and if you have not, your own manly soul will be the best of company.
The true man will be no niggard, nor will he be selfish; selfishness defeats itself. It is the ass laden with sponges that lies down in the water to decrease its load; it is the dog that opens its mouth to seize in the water the reflection of the liver it carries: it loses the substance in grasping the shadow. The charity that gives pennies to beggars is a very low form, and does but little good. Help your neighbour to help himself, and you have strengthened both his manhood and your own. Assist your poor friends to obtain a piece of land of their own, and a house out of which no landlord can eject them, and you are conferring a blessing upon them and their families for life. You have some knowledge that others do not possess; tell it, and instead of losing your store, you have increased it. No worthy action ever failed of its reward.
Conscientiousness is a prime element of manhood; a firm, unswerving adherence to what we regard as right. John Brown, a believer in special providence and a swallower of orthodox dogmas, is a pitiable sight; but John Brown, the sympathiser with the slave, conscientiously working day and night and dying true to the man within him, looms up before us a giant among pigmies.page 8
The elegances of manhood should not be neglected. Singing is delightful, and lifts the soul heavenward. Dancing goes naturally with it, and is as innocent as the waving of prairie grass. Art should not be neglected. You may not be able to buy fine oil-paintings, but who can paint a sky as the sun paints it almost every day? What landscape, even by Gainsborough, ever began to equal these woods and fields of New England, that, are before us every day, and whose beauty changes every moment? You have but few portraits, and perhaps none that are painted, but you can improve in art by studying the living men, women, and children that are walking, talking, and gesticulating around you.
The noblest part of a man's nature is the spiritual and religious, and a discourse on manhood that would leave out this part of his nature would be as deficient as a map of New England that left out Massachusetts. Man is naturally a religious being, and the true man will be pre-eminently so; but it will be a religion in harmony with reason and science, a religion that will not find itself under any necessity of accepting the imperfect representations of the deity contained in the Bible as the actual universal soul. It will be a religion in which the Devil will not be the chief figure, nor safety from fancied damnation its chief end. Spontaneously there springs up in the soul a recognition of a power infinitely superior to our own, a wisdom that regulates the universe from the shining of a sun to the gleaming of a glow-worm, the lash of an animalcule's cilia to the dancing thought of intelligent man. True manhood will recognise this, but at the same time recognise that this spirit's mode of operation is by law which is never transcended, and that most of the prayers that are offered are an impertinence, the finite instructing the Infinite.
The true man will cultivate his spiritual faculties that elevate him most above the brute. What mean these visions of the dying as they reach the portal and see through the half open door? What mean the testimony of thousands of good, intelligent men and women, who testify to the reality of communion with the departed! We live in a spiritual atmosphere in which the soul breathes, as the body does in the ocean of air that surrounds the planet. We are spirits for the ages to come, and this subject of growth in manhood will be important to us when the fiery stars have grown cold.
The man who does not recognise his spiritual nature or pay any attention to its development may be intelligent, healthy, honest, yes, and even in some directions, religious; just as the earth without direct sunshine would have green trees, sweet flowers, beasts, birds, men, and women. Yet oh! what glory the sun gives to the skies! what beauty to the earth! what charm to our hearts! So spiritual faith, spiritual culture, gives beauty to our lives; it feeds hope, it increases charity, it opens to us a heaven of beauty that the merely material eye can never behold.
You may never be President; there is but little prospect that you will ever be a senator or a representative. You may not be rich, but you need not be discouraged; the path of manhood lies before you, and angels beckon you onward. Let no moment pass unimproved, turn not aside for any allurement. There is an opportunity for every one of you by being true to the nature with which God has endowed you, and by making the most of the lessons and teachers with which he has provided you to be greater than the president and higher than the king. Heaven presents no higher seats than those on which true men and women sit. Be faithful, brothers, sisters, and they shall be yours.