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that the choice between the confession and denial of God is always open to every human intellect, whether the most cultured or the most ignorant. Those who deny God refuse to recognize this, and seek to establish the logical contradiction between scientific truths and the idea of the Divinity. Seconded by a religious public, which was in terror lest the small and feeble god of its own conception should be overthrown, they concluded — first, that if the earth had been proved not to be the centre of the solar system, it was also proved that the Christian God should be relegated to a place among false and lying gods; and then, that if the stars of the solar system had been gradually formed by a mechanical process from matter in rotation, according to Lamarck's theory, the old stamp of supernatural manufacture might be obliterated at least from the planets and satellites.
All that could be proved from either of these arguments was that a God such as the vulgar herd imagine him could not exist, and each time answer was made that God was verily far greater. Finally, when the doctrine of Evolution had been published to the four winds, it was proclaimed, amid the groans, lamentations, and maledictions of believing people, that animals, plants, and man had made themselves by chance, out of a single substance, by means of natural selection; and that if the old idea of the Creator had been enabled to resist so many former blows given it by science, this time it had exploded forever.
Now the poet also is called to take his place in the ranks of those who, amid all this empty tumult, rise with heads uplifted and a smile on their lips to the defense of the new truths, together with the old beliefs. When we spiritualist poets listen to the secret voices of things, and feel dim stirrings of life, germs and traces of almost human joy and sadness in the winds and waves, the forests and running streams, in the delicate forms of flowers, in the expressive lines of rocks, in the ridges of the pensive mountains, you sometimes tell us that we are dreaming; and it is true, only that, like all dreams, ours is founded on realities. Our love of nature, except when it is an empty rhetoric badly learned, reveals a true affinity between men and things, a close relationship which science is always trying to prove by documentary evidence, while we have long since felt it in our hearts. And even if we put aside the laws of Evolution and the prophecies of St. Paul, we find within ourselves a true and intimate inspiration which assures us that all this dear beauty of earth is
not destined continually to decay and be lost, but that those hidden voices, the melancholy and joy of nature, signify the desire and expectation of a better state. When we have willingly and reverently depicted pain, you have sometimes told us that our art is inhuman. And now science comes to our aid and answers for us: “Pain is indeed a noble thing, because without the instrumentality of pain man could not have been raised from the dust, nor civilization from barbarism.”
When we describe love, we represent it, not indeed as that false and imaginary phantom of love which has no power over the senses, nor as that fever of mere instinct which debases the spirit, but as a love which by its very nature aspires to unite two beings in one. At the same time, we pass over, I will not say the material part, for that would be impossible, but the merely animal and physiological part, that we may describe instead those refined and exquisite sensations which can only belong to the man who loves, and that we may glorify the passion of souls. When, I repeat, we describe love in this way, many set us down as timid consciences, as minds incapable of appreciating the glory and beauty of life, and of all that propagates life. Yet if the universe truly be governed by a law of indefinite progress, even from the human species a higher species may arise, it matters little when or how. And if the sexual instinct, which grows ever more active as we ascend the scale of organisms, has been a preparation for human love, this same human love may also be a preparation for some unknown form of sentiment in the future, its evolution continuing throughout the present phase of life, which is undoubtedly tending toward an ever greater refinement of matter and an ever greater power of the spirit.
Now a lofty moral law is written in the books of Nature, according to which no superior species can issue from an inferior one, without effort being made in the direction of the higher type. Wherever this effort is found wanting, there you find decadence and degeneration. If in the representation of love, other artists gravitate backward toward the brute, we, on the other hand, gravitate onward toward that higher type which man bears within himself, and must develop by himself. When our art, which can be a stranger to no form of beauty, seeks inspiration in moral beauty, we sometimes hear ourselves called cold and pedantic; but we know that we are fighting a just and necessary battle, if it be true, as it certainly is, that man is being carried by a law
of Nature toward an enlightened knowledge of one supreme moral ideal, in spite of the corruption and degeneration of individuals, caused by confused and contradictory notions of right and wrong. When, notwithstanding our feeling for the poetry of the past, of ruins and of antiquity, when notwithstanding every rightly conservative sentiment, we rise palpitating at the call of social misery and injustice, to tell of the woes of the afflicted and to threaten the careless, to invoke juster ordinances for human society, you may call us dreamers of a Utopia or Arcadia. But if the law of Evolution be true, we are, instead, the pioneers of a justice which shall infallibly be brought to pass by the contemporaneous union of the two forces which govern the world after the Divine plan, the force of conservation and the force of transformation.
From an essay in the Contemporary
T is sometimes said that though Rev. John Foster wrote on many subjects, his reputation depends on four essays: «On
a Man's Writing Memoirs of Himself,” « On Decision of Character,» « On the Application of the Epithet Romantic,” and “On Some of the Causes by which Evangelical Religion Has Been Rendered Less Acceptable to Persons of Cultivated Tastes.” These, indeed, complete the list of his essays as they appear in the catalogues, but each one of them is really a book of essays, written in the form of “Letters,” after the manner of Bolingbroke in his essays on the «Study of History.” The Letters “On Decision of Character" are the best of the series, but in those « On a Man's Writing Memoirs of Himself » Foster dwells most effectively on the important truth of the constant changes undergone by the individuality of the same person during a long life. These essays gave him celebrity during his lifetime, and he has not lost standing since his death. He was born in Yorkshire, England, September 17th, 1770. His life was spent in his professional work as a clergyman, relieved by the amateur work as an author which gave him his widest usefulness. He died October 15th, 1843.
DECISION OF CHARACTER
THERE is no man so irresolute as not to act with determination
in many single cases, where the motive is powerful and
simple, and where there is no need of plan and perseverance; but this gives no claim to the term character, which expresses the habitual tenor of a man's active being. The character may be displayed in the successive unconnected undertakings, which are each of limited extent, and end with the attainment of their particular objects. But it is seen to the greatest advantage in those grand schemes of action, which have no necessary point of conclusion, which continue on through successive years, and extend even to that dark period when the agent himself is withdrawn from human sight.
I have repeatedly remarked to you in conversation, the effect of what has been called a Ruling Passion. When its object is noble, and an enlightened understanding directs its movements, it appears to me a great felicity; but whether its object be noble or not it infallibly creates, where it exists in great force, that active, ardent constancy, which I describe as a capital feature of the decisive character. The subject of such a commanding passion wonders, if indeed he were at leisure to wonder, at the persons who pretend to attach importance to an object which they make none but the most languid efforts to secure. The utmost powers of the man are constrained into the service of the favor. ite Cause by this passion, which sweeps away, as it advances, all the trivial objections and little opposing motives, and seems almost to open a way through impossibilities. The spirit comes on him in the morning as soon as he recovers his consciousness, and commands and impels him through the day, with a power from which he could not emancipate himself if he would. When the force of habit is added, the determination becomes invincible, and seems to assume rank with the great laws of nature, making it nearly as certain that such a man will persist in his course, as that in the morning the sun will rise.
A persisting, untamable efficacy of soul gives a seductive and pernicious dignity even to a character and a course which every moral principle forbids us to approve. Often in the narrations of history and fiction, an agent of the most dreadful designs compels a sentiment of deep respect for the unconquerable mind displayed in their execution. While we shudder at his activity, we say with regret, mingled with an admiration which borders on partiality, What a noble being this would have been, if goodness had been his destiny! The partiality is evinced in the very selection of terms, by which we show that we are tempted to refer his atrocity rather to his destiny than to his choice. I wonder whether an emotion like this has not been experienced by each reader of «Paradise Lost,” relative to the Leader of the infernal spirits; a proof, if such were the fact, that a very serious error has been committed by the greatest poet. In some of the high examples of ambition, we almost revere the force of mind which impelled them forward through the longest series of action, superior to doubt and fluctuation, - and disdainful of ease, of pleasures, of opposition, and of danger. We bow to the ambitious spirit which reached the true sublime in the reply of Pom.