Rest and Motion
MOTION and Rest are the two feet upon which existence goes. All action and all definite power result from the intimacy and consent of these opposite principles. If, therefore, one would construct any serviceable mechanism, he must incorporate into it, and commonly in a manifold way, a somewhat passive, a somewhat contrary, and, as it were, inimical to action, though action be the sole aim and use of his contrivance. Thus, the human body is penetrated by the passive and powerless skeleton, which is a mere weight upon the muscles, a part of the burden that, nevertheless, it enables them to bear. The lever of Archimedes would push the planet aside, provided only it were supplied with its indispensable complement, a fulcrum, or fixity: without this it will not push a pin. The block of the pulley must have its permanent attachment; the wheel of the locomotive engine requires beneath it the fixed rail; the foot of the pedestrian, solid earth; the wing of the bird rests upon the relatively stable air to support his body, and upon his body to gain power over the air. Nor is it alone of operations mechanical that the law holds good: it is universal; and its application to pure mental action may be shown without difficulty. A single act of the mind is represented by the formation of a simple sentence. The process consists, first, in the mind’s fixing upon and resting in an object, which thereby becomes the subject of the sentence; and, secondly, in predication, which is movement, represented by the verb. The reader will easily supply himself with instances and illustrations of this, and need not, therefore, be detained.
In the economy of animal and vegetable existence, as in all that Nature makes, we observe the same inevitable association. Here is perpetual fixity of form, perpetual flux of constituent,—the ideas of Nature never changing, the material realization of them never ceasing to change. A horse is a horse through all the ages; yet the horse of to-day is changed from the horse of yesterday.
If one of these principles seem to get the start, and to separate itself, the other quickly follows. No sooner, for example, does any person perform an initial deed, proceeding purely (let us suppose) from free will, than Nature in him begins to repose therein, and consequently inclines to its repetition for the mere reason that it has been once done. This is Habit, which makes action passive, and is the greatest of labor-saving inventions. Custom is the habit of society, holding the same relation to progressive genius. It is the sleeping partner in the great social firm; it is thought and force laid up and become fixed capital. Annihilate this,— as in the French Revolution was attempted,— and society is at once reduced to its bare immediate force, and must scratch the soil with its fingers.
Sometimes these principles seem to be strictly hostile to each other and in no respect reciprocal, as where habit in the individual and custom in society oppose themselves bitterly to free will and advancing thought: yet even here the special warfare is but the material of a broader and more subtile alliance. An obstinate fixity in one’s bosom often serves as a rock on which to break the shell of some hard inclosed faculty. Upon stepping-stones of our slain selves we mount to new altitudes. So do the antagonisms of these principles in the broader field of society equally conceal a fundamental reciprocation. By the opposition to his thought of inert and defiant custom, the thinker is compelled to interrogate his consciousness more deeply and sacredly; and being cut off from that sympathy which has its foundation in similarity of temperaments and traditions, he must fall back with simpler abandonment upon the pure idea, and must seek responses from that absolute nature of man which the men of his time are not human enough to afford him. This absolute nature, this divine identity in man, underrunning times, temperaments, individualities, is that which poet and prophet must address : yet to speak to it, they must speak from it; to be heard by the universal heart, they must use a universal language. But this marvellous vernacular can be known to him alone whose heart is universal, in whom even self-love is no longer selfish, but is a pure respect to his own being as it is Being. Well it is, therefore, that here and there one man should be so denied all petty and provincial claim to attention, that only by speak - ing to Man as Man, and in the sincerest vernacular of the human soul, he can find audience; for thus it shall become his need, for the sake of joy no less than of duty, to know himself purely as man, and to yield himself wholly to his immortal humanity. Thus does fixed custom force back the most moving souls, until they touch the springs of inspiration, and are indued with power: then, at once potent and pure, they gush into history, to be influences, to make epochs, and to prevail over that through whose agency they first obtained strength.
Thus, everywhere, through all realms, do the opposite principles of Rest and Motion depend upon and reciprocally empower each other. In every act, mechanical, mental, social, must both take part and consent together; and upon the perfection of this consent depends the quality of the action. Every progress is conditioned on a permanence; every permanence lives but in and through progress. Where all, .and with equal and simultaneous impulse, strives to move, nothing can move, but chaos is come; where all refuses to move, and therefore stagnates, decay supervenes, which is motion, though a motion downward.
Having made this general statement, wc proceed to say that there are two chief ways in which these universal opposites enter into reciprocation. The first and more obvious is the method of alternation, or of rest from motion ; the other, that of continuous equality, which may be called a rest in motion. These two methods, however, are not mutually exclusive, but may at once occupy the same ground, and apply to the same objects, — as oxygen and nitrogen severally fill the same space, to the full capacity of each, as though the other were absent.
Instances of the alternation, either total or approximative, of these principles are many and familiar. They may be seen in the systole and diastole of the heart; in the alternate activity and passivity of the lungs; in the feet of the pedestrian, one pausing while the other proceeds ; in the waving wings of birds; in the undulation of the sea ; in the creation and propagation of sound, and the propagation, at least, of light; in the alternate acceleration and retardation of the earth’s motion in its orbit, and in the waving of its poles. In all vibrations and undulations there is a going and returning, between which must exist minute periods of repose; but in many instances the return is simply a relaxation or a subsidence, and belongs, therefore, to the department of rest. Discourse itself, it will be observed, has its pauses, seasons of repose thickly interspersed in the action of speech ; and besides these has its accented and unaccented syllables, emphatic and unemphatic words, — illustrating thus in itself the law which it here affirms. History is full of the same thing; the tides of faith and feeling now ascend and now subside, through all the ages, in the soul of humanity ; each new affirmation prepares the way for new doubt, each honest doubt in the end furthers and enlarges belief; the pendulum of destiny swings to and fro forever, and earth’s minutest life and heaven’s remotest star swing with it, rising but to fall, and falling that they may rise again. So does rhythm go to the very bottom of the world : the heart of Nature pulses, and the echoing shore and all music and the throbbing heart and swaying destinies of man but follow and proclaim the law of her inward life.
The universality and mutual relationship of these primal principles have, perhaps, been sufficiently set forth; and this may be the place to emphasize the second chief point, — that the perfection of this mutuality measures the degree of excellence in all objects and actions. It will everywhere appear, that, the more regular and symmetrical their relationship, the more beautiful and acceptable are its results. For example, sounds proceeding from vibrations wherein the strokes and pauses are in invariable relation are such sounds as we denominate musical. Accordingly all sounds are musical at a sufficient distance, since the most irregular undulations are, in a long journey through the air, wrought to an equality, and made subject to exact law,— as in this universe all irregularities are sure to be in the end. Thus, the thunder, which near at hand is a wild crash, or nearer yet a crazy crackle, is by distance deepened and refined into that marvellous bass which we all know. And doubtless the jars, the discords, and moral contradictions of time, however harsh and crazy at the outset, flow into exact undulation along the ether of eternity, and only as a pure proclamation of law attain to the ear of Heaven. Nay, whoso among men is able to plant his ear high enough above this rude clangor may, in like manner, so hear it, that it shall be to him melody, solace, fruition, a perpetual harvest of the heart’s dearest wishes, a perpetual corroboration of that which faith affirms.
We may therefore easily understand why musical sounds are musical, why they are acceptable and moving, while those affront the sense in which the minute reposes are capricious, and, as it were, upon ill terms with the movements. The former appeal to what is most universal and cosmical within us,— to the pure Law, the deep Nature in our breasts; they fall in with the immortal rhythm of life itself, which the others encounter and impugn.
It will be seen also that verse differs from prose as musical sounds from ordinary tones; and having so deep a ground in Nature, rhythmical speech will be sure to continue, in spite of objection and protest, were it, if possible, many times more energetic than that of Mr. Carlyle. But always the best prose has a certain rhythmic emphasis and cadence: in Milton’s grander passages there is a symphony of organs, the bellows of the mighty North (one might say) filling their pipes; Goldsmith’s flute still breathes through his essays; and in the ampler prose of Bacon there is the swell of a summer ocean, and you can half fancy you hear the long soft surge falling on the shore. Also in all good writing, as in good reading, the pauses suffer no slight; they are treated handsomely ; and each sentence rounds gratefully and clearly into rest. Sometimes, indeed, an attempt is made to reach in an illegitimate way this force of firm pauses, as in exaggerated French style, wherein the writer seems never to stride or to run, but always to jump like a frog.
Again, as reciprocal opposites, our two principles should be of equal dignity and value. To concede, however, the equality of rest with motion must, for an American, be not easy; and it is therefore in point to assert and illustrate this in particular. What better method of doing so than that of taking some one large instance in Nature, if such can be found, and allowing this, after fair inspection, to stand for all others ? And, as it happens, just what we require is quite at hand; —the alternation of Day and Night, of sleep and waking, is so broad, obvious, and familiar, and so mingled with our human interests, that its two terms are easily subjected to extended and clear comparison; while also it deserves discussion upon its own account, apart from its relation to the general subject.
Sleep is now popularly known to be coextensive with Life,—inseparable from vital existence of whatever grade. The rotation of the earth is accordingly implied, as was happily suggested by Paley, in the constitution of every animal and every plant. It is quite evident, therefore, that this necessity was not laid upon man through some inadvertence of Nature ; on the contrary, this arrangement must be such as to her seemed altogether suitable, and, if suitable, economical. Eager men, however, avaricious of performance, do not always regard it with entire complacency. Especially have the saints been apt to set up a controversy with Nature in this particular, submitting with infinite unwillingness to the law by which they deem themselves, as it were, defrauded of life and activity in so large measure. In form, to be sure, their accusation lies solely against themselves; they reproach themselves with sleeping beyond need, sleeping for the mere luxury and delight of it; but the venial selfdeception is quite obvious, — nothing plainer than that it is their necessity itself which is repugnant to them, and that their wills are blamed for not sufficiently withstanding and thwarting it. Pious William Law, for example, is unable to disparage sleep enough for his content. “ The poorest, dullest refreshment of the body,” he calls it,. . . “such a dull, stupid state of existence, that even among animals we despise them most which are most drowsy.” You should therefore, so he urges, “begin the day in the spirit of renouncing sleep.” Baxter, also,—■ at that moment a walking catalogue and epitome of all diseases, — thought himself guilty for all sleep he enjoyed beyond three hours a day. More’s Utopians were to rise at very early hours, and attend scientific lectures before breakfast.
Ambition and cupidity, which, in their way, are no whit less earnest and selfsacrificing than sanctity, equally look upon sleep as a wasteful concession to bodily wants, and equally incline to limit such concession to its mere minimum. Commonplaces accordingly are perpetually circulating in the newspapers, especially in such as pretend to a didactic tone, wherein all persons are exhorted to early rising, to resolute abridgment of the hours of sleep, and the like. That Sir Walter Raleigh slept but five hours in twentyfour; that John Hunter, Frederick the Great, and Alexander von Humboldt slept but four; that the Duke of Wellington made it an invariable rule to “ turn out” whenever he felt inclined to turn over, and John Wesley to arise upon his first awaking: instances such as these appear on parade with the regularity of militia troops at muster; and the precept duly follows, — “ Whoso would not be insignificant, let him go and do likewise.” “ All great men have been early risers,” says my newspaper.
Of late, indeed, a bettor knowledge of the laws of health, or perhaps only a keener sense of its value and its instabiiity, begins to supersede these rash inculcations ; and paragraphs due to some discreet Dr. Hall make the rounds of the press, in which we are reminded that early rising, in order to prove a benefit, rather than a source of mischief, must be duly matched with early going to bed. The one, we are told, will by no means answer without the other. As yet, however, this is urged upon hygienic grounds alone; it is a mere concession to the body, a bald necessity that we hampered mortals lie under; which necessity we are quite at liberty to regret and accuse, though we cannot with safety resist it. Sleep is still admitted to be a waste of time, though one with which Nature alone is chargeable. And I own, not without reluctance, that the great authority of Plato can be pleaded for this low view of its functions. In the “Laws ” he enjoins a due measure thereof, but for the sake of health alone, and adds, that the sleeper is, for the time, of no more value than the dead. Clearly, mankind would sustain some loss of good sense, were all the dullards and fat-wits taken away ; and Sancho Panza, with his hearty, “ Blessings on the man that invented sleep ! ” here ekes out the scant wisdom of sages. The talking world, however, of our day takes part with the Athenian against the Manchegan philosopher, and, while admitting the present necessity of sleep, does not rejoice in its original invention. If, accordingly, in a computation of the length of man’s life, the hours passed in slumber are carefully deducted, and considered as forming no part of available time, not even the medical men dispute the justice of such procedure. They have but this to say: — “The stream of life is not strong enough to keep the mill of action always going; we must therefore periodically shut down the gate and allow the waters to accumulate; and he ever loses more than he gains who attempts any avoidance of this natural necessity.”
As medical men, they are not required, perhaps, to say more; and we will be grateful to them for faithfully urging this, — especially when we consider, that, under the sage arrangements now existing, all that the physician does for the general promotion of health is done in defiance of his own interests. We, however, have further questions to ask. Why is not the life-stream more affluent? Sleep is needful. — but wherefore ? The physician vindicates the sleeper ; but the philosopher must vindicate Nature.
It is surely one step toward an elucidation of this matter to observe that the necessity here accused is not one arbitrarily laid upon us by Nature, but one existing in Nature herself, and appertaining to the very conception of existence. The elucidation, however, need not pause at this point. The assumption that sleep is a piece of waste, as being a mere restorative for the body, and not a service or furtherance to the mind, — this must be called in question and examined closely; for it is precisely in this assumption, as I deem, that the popular judgment goes astray. Is sleep any such arrest and detention of the mind ? That it is a shutting of those outward gates by which impressions flow in upon the soul is sufficiently obvious ; but who can assure us that it is equally a closing of those inward and skyward gates through which come the reinforcements of faculty, the strenglh that masters and uses impression ? I persuade myself, on the contrary, that it is what Homer called it, divine,— able, indeed, to bring the blessing of a god ; and that hours lawfully passed under the pressure of its heavenly palms are fruitful, not merely negatively, but positively, not only as recruiting exhausted powers, and enabling us to be awake again, but by direct contribution to the resources of the soul and the uses of life; that, in line, one awakes farther on in life, as well as farther on in time, than he was at falling asleep. This deeper function of the night, what is it ?
Sleep is, first of all, a filter, or sieve. It strains off the impressions that engross, but not enrich us,, — that superfluous material of experience which, either from glutting excess, or from sheer insignificance, cannot he spiritualized, made human, transmuted into experience itself. Every man in our day, according to the measure of his sensibility, and with some respect also to his position, is mobbed by impressions, and must fight as for his life, if he escape being taken utterly captive by them. It is our perpetual peril that our lives shall become so sentient as no longer to be reflective or artistic,— so beset and infested by the immediate as to lose all amplitude, all perspective, and to become mere puppets of the present, mere Chinese pictures, a huddle of foreground without horizon, or heaven, or even earthly depth and reach. It is easy to illustrate this miserable possibility. A man, for example, in the act of submitting to the extraction of a tooth, is, while the process lasts, one of the poorest poor creatures with whose existence the world might be taunted. His existence is but skin-deep, and contracted to a mere point at that: no vision and faculty divine, no thoughts that wander through eternity, now: a tooth, a jaw, and the iron of the dentist,— these constitute, for the time being, his universe. Only when this monopolizing, enslaving, sensualizing impression has gone by, may what had been a point of pained and quivering animality expand once more to the dimensions of a human soul. Kant, it is said, could withdraw his attention from the pain of gout by pure mental engagement, but found the effort dangerous to his brain, and accordingly was fain to submit, and be no more than a toe-joint, since evil fate would have it so. These extreme cases exemplify a process of impoverishment from which we all daily suffer. The external, the immediate, the idiots of the moment, telling tales that signify nothing, yet that so overery the suggestion of our deeper life as by the sad and weary to be mistaken for the discourse of life itself, — these obtrude themselves upon us, and multiply and brag and brawl about us, until we have neither room for better guests, nor spirits for their entertainment. We are like schoolboys with eyes out at the windows, drawn by some rattle of drum and squeak of fife, who would study, were they but deaf. Reproach sleep as a waste, forsooth ! It is this tyrannical attraction to the surface, that indeed robs us of time, and defrauds us of the uses of life. We cannot hear the gods for the buzzing of flies. We are driven to an idle industry,—the idlest of all things.
And to this description of loss men are nowadays peculiarly exposed. The modern world is all battle-field; the smoke, the dust, the din fill every eye and ear; and the hill-top of Lucretius, where is it ? The indispensable, terrible newspaper, with its late allies, the Titans and sprites of steam and electricity,—bringing to each retired nook, and thrusting in upon each otherwise peaceful household, the crime's, follies, fears, solicitudes, doubts, problems of all kingdoms and peoples, — exasperates the former Scotch mist of impressions into a flooding rain, and almost threatens to swamp the brain of mankind. The incitement to thought is ever greater; but the possibility of thinking, especially of thinking in a deep, simple, central way, is ever less. Problems multiply, but how to attend to them is ever a still greater problem. Guests of the intellect and imagination accumulate until the master of the house is pushed out of doors, and hospitality ceases from the mere excess of its occasion. That must be a greater than Homer who should now do Homer’s work. He, there in his sweet, deepskied Ionia, privileged with an experience so simple and yet so salient and powerful, might well hope to act upon this victoriously by his spirit, might hope to transmute it, as indeed he did, into melodious and enduring human suggestion. Would it have been all the same, had he lived in our type-setting modern world, with its multitudinous knowledges, its aroused conscience, its spurred and yet thwarted sympathies, its new incitements to egotism also, and new tools and appliances for egotism to use, — placed, as it were, in the focus of a vast whispering-gallery, where all the sounds of heaven and earth came crowding, contending, incessant upon his ear? One sees at a glance how the serious thought and poetry of Greece cling to a few master facts, not being compelled to fight always with the many-headed monster of detail; and this suggests to me that our literature may fall short of Grecian amplitude, depth, and simplicity, not wholly from inferiority of power, but from complications appertaining to our position.
The problem of our time is, How to digest and assimilate the Newspaper ? To complain of it, to desire its abolition, is an anachronism of the will; it is to complain that time proceeds, and that events follow each other in due sequence. It is hardly too bold to say that the newspaper is the modern world, as distinct from the antique and the mediæval. It represents, by its advent, that epoch in human history wherein each man must begin, in proportion to his capability of sympathy and consideration, to collate his private thoughts, fortunes, interests with those of the human race at large. We are now in the crude openings of this epoch, fevered by its incidents and demands ; and one of its tokens is a general exhaustion of the nervous system and failure of health, both here and in Europe, — those of most sensitive spirit, and least retired and sheltered from the impressions of the time, suffering most. All this will end, must end, victoriously. In the mean time can we not somewhat adjust ourselves to this new condition ?
One thing we can and must not fail to do: we can learn to understand and appreciate Rest. In particular, we should build up and reinforce the powers of the night to offset this new intensity of the day. Such, indeed, as the day now is has it ever been, though in a less degree : always it has east upon men impressions significant, insignificant, and of an ill significance, promiscuously and in excess; and always sleep has been the filter of memory, the purifier of experience, providing a season that follows closely upon the impressions of the day, ere yet they are too deeply imbedded, in which our deeper life may pluck away the adhering burrs from its garments, and arise disburdened, clean, and free.
I make no doubt that Death also performs, though in an ampler and more thorough way, the same functions. It opposes the tyranny of memory. For were our experience to go on forever accumulating, unwinnowed, undiminished, every man would sooner or later break down beneath it; every man would be crushed by his own traditions, becoming a grave to himself, and drawing the clods over his own head. To relieve us of these accidental accretions, to give us back to ourselves, is the use, in part, of that sleep which rounds each day, and of that other sleep — brief, but how deep ! — which rounds each human life.
Accordingly, he who sleeps well need not die so soon,— even as in the order of Nature he will not. He has that other and rarer half of a good memory, namely, a good forgetting. For none remembers so ill as he that remembers all. “ A great German scholar affirmed that he knew not what it was to forget.” Better have been born an idiot ! An unwashed memory, — faugh! To us moderns and Americans, therefore, who need above all things to forget well,— our one imperative want being a simplification of experience.,—to us, more than to all other men, is requisite, in large measure of benefit, the winnowing-fan of sleep, sleep with its choices and exclusions, if we would not need the offices of death too soon.
But a function of yet greater depth and moment remains to be indicated. Sleep enables the soul not only to shed away that which is foreign, but to adopt and assimilate whatever is properly its own. Dr. Edward Johnson, a man of considerable penetration, though not, perhaps, of a balanced judgment, has a dictum to the effect that the formation of blood goes on during our waking hours, but the composition of tissue during those of sleep. I know not upon what grounds of evidence this statement is made; but one persuades himself that it must be approximately true of the body, since it is undoubtedly so of the soul. Under the eye of the sun the fluid elements of character are supplied; but the final edification takes place beneath the stars. Awake, we think, feel, act; sleeping, we become. Day feeds our consciousness , night, out of those stores which action has accumulated, nourishes the vital unconsciousness, the pure unit of the man. During sleep, the valid and serviceable experience of the day is drawn inward, wrought upon by spiritual catalysis, transmuted into conviction, sentiment, character, life, and made part of that which is to attract and assimilate all subsequent experience. Who, accordingly, has not awaked to find some problem already solved with which he had vainly grappled on the preceding day? It is not merely that in the morning our invigorated powers work more efficiently, and enable us to reach this solution immediately after awaking. Often, indeed, this occurs; but there are also numerous instances— and such alone are in point — wherein the work is complete before one’s awakening: not unfrequently it is by the energy itself of the new perception that the soft bonds of slumber are first broken ; the soul hails its new dawn with so lusty a cheer, that its clarion reaches even to the ear of the body, and we are unconsciously murmuring the echoes of that joyous salute while yet the iris-hued fragments of our dreams linger about us. The poet in the morning, if true divine slumber have been vouchsafed him, finds his mind enriched with sweeter imaginations, the thinker with profounder principles and wider categories: neither begins the new day where he left the old, but each during his rest has silently, wondronsly, advanced to fresh positions, commanding the world now from nobler summits, and beholding around him an horizon beyond that over which yesterday's sun rose and set. Milton gives us testimony very much in point: —
Her nightly visitation unimplored,
And dictates to me slumb'ring.”
Thus, in one important sense, is day the servant of night, action the minister of rest. I fancy, accordingly, that Marcus Antoninus may give Heraclitus credit for less than his full meaning in saying that “ men asleep are then also laboring”; for he understands him to signify only that through such the universe is still accomplishing its ends. Perhaps he meant to indicate what has been here affirmed, — that in sleep one’s personal destiny is still ripening, his true life proceeding.
But if, as the instance which has been under consideration suggests, these two principles are of equal dignity, it will follow that the ability to rest profoundly is of no less estimation than the ability to work powerfully. Indeed, is it not often the condition upon which great and sustained power of action depends? The medal must have two sides. “ Danton,” says Carlyle, “ was a great nature that could rest.” Were not the force and terror of his performance the obverse fact ? I do not now mean, however true it would be, to say that without rest physical resources would fail, and action be enfeebled in consequence; I mean that the sold which wants the attitude of repose wants the condition of power. There is a petulant and meddlesome industry which proceeds from spiritual debility, and causes more; it is like the sleeplessness and tossing of exhausted nervous patients, which arises from weakness, and aggravates its occasion. As few things are equally’ wearisome, so few are equally wasteful, with a perpetual indistinct sputter of action, whereby nothing is done and nothing let alone. Half the world breaks out with action; its performance is cutaneous, of the nature of tetter. Hence is it that in the world, with such a noise of building, so few edifices are reared.
We require it as a pledge of the sanity ot our condition, and consequent wholesomeness of our action, that we can withhold our hand, and leave the world in that of its Maker. No man is quite necessary’ to Omnipotence ; grass grew before we were born, and doubtless will continue to grow when we are dead. If we act, let it be because our soul has somewhat to bring forth, and not because our fingers itch. We have in these days been emphatically instructed that all speech not rooted in silence, rooted, that is, in pure, vital, silent Nature, is poor and unworthy ; but we should be aware that action equally requires this solemn and celestial perspective, this issue out of the never-trodden, noiseless realms of the soul, Only that which comes from a divine depth can attain to a divine height.
There is a courage of withholding and forbearing greater than any other courage; and before this Fate itself succumbs. Wellington won the Battle of Waterloo by heroically standing still; and every hour of that adventurous waiting was heaping up significance for the moment when at length he should cry, “ Up, Guards, and at them ! ” What Cecil said of Raleigh, “ He can toil terribly,” has been styled “an electric touch”; but the “ masterly inactivity ” of Sir James Mackintosh, happily’ appropriated by Mr. Calhoun, carries an equal appeal to intuitive sense, and has already become proverbial. He is no sufficient hero who in the. delays of Destiny, when his way is hedged up and his hope deferred, cannot reserve his strength and bide his time. The power of acting greatly includes that of greatly abstaining from action. The leader of an epoch in affairs should therefore be some Alfred, Bruce, Gustaves Vasa, Cromwell, Washington, Garibaldi, who can wait while the iron of Opportunity heats at the forge of time; and then, in the moment of its white glow, can so smite as to shape it forever to the uses of mankind.
One should be able not only to wait, but to wait strenuously, sternly, immovably, rooted in his repose like a mountain oak in the soil; for it may easily happen that the necessity of refraining shall be most imperative precisely when the external pressure toward action is most vehement. Amid the violent urgency of events, therefore, one should learn the art of the mariner, who, in time of storm lies to, with sails mostly furled, until milder gales permit him again to spread sail and stretch away. With us, as with him, even a fair wind, may blow so fiercely that one cannot safely run before it. There are movements with whose direction we sympathize, which are yet so ungoverned that we lose our freedom and the use of our reason in committing ourselves to them. So the seaman who runs too long before the increasing gale has thereafter no election; go on he must, for there is death in pausing, though it be also death to proceed. Learn, therefore, to wait. Is there not many a one who never arrives at fruit, for no better reason than that he persists in plucking his own blossoms ? Learn to wait. Take time, with the smith, to raise your arm, if you would deliver a telling blow.
Does it seem wasteful, this waiting? Let us, then, remind ourselves that excess and precipitation are more than wasteful, — they are directly destructive. The fire that blazes beyond bounds not warms the house, but burns it down, and only helps infinitesimally to warm the wide out-of-doors. Any live snail will outtravel a wrecked locomotive, and besides will leave no trail of slaughter on its track. Though despatch be the soul of business, yet he who outruns his own feet comes to the ground, and makes no despatch,—unless it be of himself. Hurry is the spouse of Flurry, and the father of Confusion. Extremes meet;, and overaction steadfastly returns to the effect of non-action, — bringing, however, the seven devils of disaster in its company. The ocean storm which heaps the waves so high may, by a sufficient increase, blow them down again; and in no calm is the sea so level as in the extremest hurricane.
Persistent excess of outward performance works mischief in one of two directions,— either upon the body or on the soul. If one will not accommodate himself to this unreasonable quantity by abatement of quality, — if he be resolute to put love, faith, and imagination into his labor, and to be alive to the very top of his brain,— then the body enters a protest, and dyspepsia, palsy, phthisis, insanity, or somewhat of the kind, ensues. Commonly, however, the tragedy is different from this, and deeper. Commonly, in these cases, action loses height as it gains lateral surface ; the superior faculties starve, being robbed of sustenance by this avarice of performance, and consequently of supply, on the part of the lower, — they sit at second table, and eat of remainder-crumbs. The delicate and divine sprites, that should bear the behests of the soul to the will and to the houses of thought in the brain her intuitions, are crowded out from the streets of the cerebral cities by the mob and trample of messengers bound upon baser errands; and thus is the soul deprived of service, and the man of inspiration. The man becomes, accordingly, a great merchant who values a cent, but does not value a human sentiment; or a lawyer who can convince a jury that white is black, but cannot convince himself that white is white, God God, and the sustaining faiths of great souls more than moonshine. So if the apple-tree will make too much wood, it can bear no fruit.; during summer it is full of haughty thrift, hut the autumn, which brings grace to so many a dwarfed bush and low shrub, shows it naked and in shame.
How many mistake the crowing of the cock for the rising of the sun, albeit the cock often crows at midnight, or at the moon’s rising, or only at the advent of a lantern and a tallow candle ! And yet what a bloated, gluttonous devourer of hopes and labors is this same precipitation ! All shores are strown with wrecks of barks that went too soon to sea. And if you launch even your well-built ship at half-tide, what will it do but strike bottom, and stick there ? The perpetual tragedy of literary history, in especial, is this. What numbers of young men, gifted with great imitative quickness, who, having, by virtue of this, arrived at fine words and figures of speech, set off on their nimble rhetorical Pegasus, keep well out of the Muse’s reach ever after! How many go conspicuously through life, snapping their smart percussion-caps upon empty barrels, because, forsooth, powder and ball do not come of themselves, and it takes time to load ! I know that there is a divine impatience, a rising of the waters of love and noble pain till they must overflow, with or without the hope of immediate apparent use, and no matter what swords and revenges impend. History records a few such defeats which are worth thousands of ordinary victories. Yet the rule is, that; precipitation comes of levity. Eagerness is shallow. Haste is but halt-earnest. If an apple is found to grow mellow and seemingly ripe much before its fellows on the same bough, you will probably discover, upon close inspection, that there is a worm in it.
To be sure, any time is too soon with those who dote upon Never. There are such as find Nature precipitate and God forward. They would have effect limp at untraversable distances behind cause; they would keep destiny carefully abed and feed it upon spoon-victual. They play duenna to the universe, and are perpetually on the qui vive, lest it escape, despite their care, into improprieties. The year is with them too fast by so much as it removes itself from the old almanac. The reason is that they are the old almanac. Or, more distinctly, they are at odds with universal law, and, knowing that to them it can come only as judgment and doom, they, not daring to denounce the law itself, fall to the trick of denouncing its agents as visionaries, and its effects as premature. The felon always finds the present an unseasonable day on which to be hanged: the sheriff takes another view of the matter.
But the error of these consists, not in realizing good purposes too slowly and patiently, but in failing effectually to purpose good at all. To those who truly are making it the business of their lives to accomplish worthy aims, this counsel cannot come amiss,-TAKE TIME. Take a year in which to thread a needle, rather than go dabbing at the texture with the naked thread. And observe, that there is an excellence and an efficacy of slowness, no less than of quickness. The armadillo is equally secure of his prey with the hawk or leopard; and Sir Charles Bell mentions a class of thieves in India, who, having, through extreme patience and command of nerve, acquired the power of motion imperceptibly slow, are the most formidable of all peculators, and almost defy precaution. And to leave these low instances, slowness produced by profoundness of feeling and fineness of perception constitutes that divine patience of genius without which genius does not exist. Mind lingers where appetite hurries on ; it is only the Newtons who stay to meditate over the fall of an apple, too trivial for the attention of the clown. It is by this noble slowness that the highest minds faintly emulate that inconceivable deliberateness and delicacy of gradation with which solar systems are built and worlds habilitated.
Now haste and intemperance are the Satans that beset virtuous Americans. And these mischiefs are furthered by those who should guard others against them. The Rev. Dr. John Todd, in a work, not destitute of merit, entitled “ The Student’s Manual,” urges those whom he addresses to study, while about it, with their utmost might, crowding into an hour as much work as it can possibly be made to contain ; so, he says, they will increase the power of the brain. But this is advice not fit to he given to a horse, much less to candidates for the graces of scholarly manhood. I read that race-horses, during the intervals between their public contests, are permitted only occasionally and rarely to be driven at their extreme speed, but are assiduously made to walk several hours each day. By this constancy ot moderate exercise they preserve health and suppleness of limb, without exhaustion of strength. And it appears, that, were such an animal never to be taken from the stable but to be pushed to the top of his speed, he would be sure to make still greater speed toward ruin. Why not be as wise for men as tor horses?
And here I desire to lay stress upon one point, which American students will do well to consider gravey, — It is a pure,not a strained and excited,attention which has signal prosperity. Distractions, tempests, and head-winds in the brain, by-ends, the sidelong eyes of vanity, the overleaping eyes of ambition, the bleared eyes of conceit, — these are they which thwart study and bring it to nought. Nor these only, but all impatience, all violent eagerness, all passionate and perturbed feeling, fill the brain with thick and hot blood, suited to the service of desire, unfit for the uses of thought. Intellect can be served only by the finest properties of the blood; and if there be any indocility of soul, any impurity of purpose, any coldness or carelessness, any prurience or crude and intemperate heat, then base spirits are sent down from the seat of the soul to summon the sanguineous forces; and these gather a crew after their own kind. Purity of attention, then, is the magic that the scholar may use ; and let him know, that, the purer it is, the more temperate, tranquil, reposeful. Truth is not to be run down with foxhounds; she is a divinity, and divinely must he draw nigh who will gain her presence. Go to, thou bluster-brain ! Dost thou think to learn ? Learn docility first, and the manners of the skies. And thou egotist, thinkest: thou that these eyes of thine, smoky with the fires of diseased self-love, and thronged with deceiving wishes, shall perceive the essential and eternal? They shall see only silver and gold, houses and lands, reputes, supremacies, fames, and, as instrumental to these, the forms of logic and seemings of knowledge. If thou wilt discern the truth, desire it, not its accidents and collateral effects. Rest in the pursuit of it, putting simplicity of quest in the place of either force or wile; and such quest cannot be unfruitful.
Let the student, then, shun an excited and spasmodic tension of brain, and he will gain more while expending less. It is not toil, it is morbid excitement, that kills; and morbid excitement in constant connection with high mental endeavor is, of all modes and associations of excitement, the most disastrous. Study as the grass grows, and your old age — and its laurels — shall be green.
Already, however, we are trenching upon that more intimate relationship of the great opposites under consideration which has been designated Rest in Motion. More intimate relationship, I say, — at any rate, more subtile, recondite, difficult of apprehension and exposition, and perhaps, by reason of this, more central and suggestive. An example of this in its physical aspect may be seen in the revolutions of the planets, and in all orbital or circular motion. For such, it will be at once perceived, is, in strictness of speech, fixed and stationary motion : it is, as Sir Isaac Newton demonstrated, an exact and equal obedience, in the same moment, to the law of fixity and the law of progression. Observe especially, that it is not, like merely retarded motion, a partial neutralization of each principle by the other, an imbecile Aristotelian compromise and half-way house between the two; but it is at once, and in virtue of the same fact, perfect Rest and perfect Motion. A revolving body is not hindered, but the same impulse which begot its movement causes this perpetually to return into itself.
Now the principles that are seen to govern the material universe are but a large-lettered display of those that rule in perfect humanity. Whatsoever makes distinguished order and admirableness in Nature makes the same in man; and never was there a fine deed that was not begot of the same impulse and ruled by the same laws to which solar systems are due. I desire, accordingly, here to take up and emphasize the statement previously made in a general way,—that the secret of perfection in all that appertains to man — in morals, manners, art, politics — must be sought in such a correspondence and reciprocation of these great opposites as the motions of the planets perfectly exemplify.
It must not, indeed, be overlooked or unacknowledged, that the planets do not move in exact circles, but diverge slightly into ellipses. The fact is by no means without significance, and that of an important kind. Pure circular motion is the type of perfection in the universe as a whole, but each part of the whole will inevitably express its partiality, will acknowledge its special character, and upon the frankness of this confession its comeliness will in no small degree depend ; nevertheless, no sooner does the eccentricity, or individuality, become so great as to suggest disloyalty to the idea of the whole, than ugliness ensues. Thus, comets are portents, shaking the faith of nations, not supporting it, like the stars. So among men. Nature is at pains to secure divergence, magnetic variation, putting into every personality and every powerful action some element of irregularity and imperfection; and her reason for doing so is, that irregularity appertains to the state of growth, and is the avenue of access to higher planes and broader sympathies; still, as the planets, though not moving in perfect circles, yet come faithfully round to the same places, and accomplish the ends of circular motion, so in man, the divergence must be special, not total, no act being the mere arc of a crrcle, and yet revolution being maintained. And to the beauty of characters and deeds, it is requisite that they should never seem even to imperil fealty to the universal idea. Revolution perfectly exact expresses only necessity, not voluntary fidelity; but departure, still deferential to the law of the whole, in evincing freedom elevates its obedience into fealty and noble faithfulness : by this measure of eccentricity, centricity, is not only emphasized, but immeasurably exalted.
But having made this full and willing concession to the element of individuality in persons and of special character in actions, we are at liberty to resume the general thesis, — that orbital rest of movement furnishes the type of perfect excellence, and suggests accordingly the proper targe of aspiration and culture.
In applying this law, we will take first a low instance, wherein the opposite principles stand apart, rather upon terms of outward covenant, or of mere mixture, than of mutual assimilation. Man is infinite; men are finite: the purest aspect of great laws never appears in collections and aggregations, yet the same laws rule here as in the soul, and such excellence as is possible issues from the same sources. As an instance, accordingly, of that ruder reciprocation which may obtain among multitudes, I name the Roman Legion.
It is said that the success of the armies of Rome is not fully accounted for, until one takes into account the constitution of this military body. It united, in an incomparable degree, the different advantages of fixity and fluency. Moderate in size, yet large enough to give the effect of mass, open in texture, yet compact in form, it afforded to every man room for individual prowess, while it left no man to his individual strength. Each soldier leaned and rested upon the Legion, a body of six thousand men; yet around each was a space in which his movements might be almost as free, rapid, and individual as though he had possessed the entire field to himself. The Macedonian Phalanx was a marvel of mass, but it was mass not penetrated with mobility; it could move, indeed could be said to have an existence, only as a whole ; its decomposed parts were but debris. The Phalanx, therefore, was terrible, the constituent parts of it imbecile ; and the Battle of Cynocephalæ finally demonstrated its inferiority, for the various possible exigencies of battle, to the conquering Legion. The brave rabble of Gauls and Goths, on the other hand, illustrated all that private valor, not reposing upon any vaster and more stable strength, has power to achieve; but these rushing torrents of prowess dashed themselves into vain spray upon the coördinated and reposing courage of Rome.
The same perpetual opposites must concur to produce the proper form and uses of the State, — though they here appear in a much more elevated form. Rest is here known as Law, motion as Liberty. In the true common wealth, these, so far from being mutually destructive or antagonistic, incessantly beget and vivify each other; so that Law is the expression and guaranty of Freedom, while Freedom flows spontaneously into the forms of Justice. Neither of these can exist, neither can be properly conceired of, apart from its correlative opposite. Nor will any condition of mere truce, or of mere mechanical equilibrium, suffice. Nothing suffices but a reciprocation so active and total that each is constantly resolving itself into the other.
The notion of Rousseau, which is Countenanced by much of the phraseology, to say the least, of the present day, was, indeed, quite contrary to this. He assumed freedom to exist only where law is not, that is, in the savage stale, and to be surrendered, piece for piece, with every acknowledgment of social obligation. Seldom was ever so plausible a doctrine equally false. Law is properly the public definition of freedom and the affirmation of its sacredness and inviolability as so defined; and only in the presence of it, either express, or implicit, does man become free. Duty and privilege are one and the same, however men may set up a false antagonism between them ; and accordingly social obligation can subtract nothing from the privilege and prerogative of liberty. Consequently, the freedom which is defined as the negation of social duty and obligation is not true regal freedom, but is that worst and basest of all tyrannies, the tyranny of pure egotism, masked in the semblance of its divine contrary. That, be it observed, is the freest society, in which the noblest and most delicate human powers find room and secure respect,— wherein the loftiest and costliost spiritualities are most invited abroad by sympathetic attraction. Now among savages little obtains appreciation, save physical force and its immediate allies: the divine fledglings of the human soul, instead of being sweetly drawn and tempted forth, are savagely menaced, rudely repelled; whatsoever is finest in the man, together with the entire nature of woman, lies, in that low temperature, enchained and repressed, like seeds in a frozen soil. The harsh, perpetual contest with want and lawless rivalry, to which all uncivilized nations are doomed, permits only a few low powers, and those much the same in all, —lichens, mosses, rude grasses, and other coarse eryptogamous growths,— to develop themselves; since these alone can endure the severities of season and treatment to which all that would clothe the fields of the soul must remain exposed. Meanwhile the utmost of that wicked and calamitous suppression of faculty, which constitutes the essence and makes the tragedy of human slavery, is equally effected by the inevitable isolation and wasteful trampling and consequent barrenness of savage life. Liberty without law is not liberty; and the converse may be asserted with like confidence.
Where, then, the fixed term, State, or Law, and the progressive term, Person, or Freewill, are in relations of reciprocal support and mutual reproduction, there alone is freedom, there alone public order. We were able to command this truth from the height of our general proposition, and closer inspection shows those anticipations to have been correct.
But man is greater than men ; and for the finest aspect of high laws, we must look to individual souls, not to masses.
What is the secret of noble manners ? Orbital action, always returning into and compensating itself. The gentleman, in offering his respect to others, offers an equal, or rather the same, respect to himself; and his courtesies may flow without stint or jealous reckoning, because they feed their source, being not an expenditure, but a circulation. Submitting to the inward law of honor and the free sense of what befits a man,— to a law perpetually made and spontaneously executed in his own bosom, the instant flowering of his own soul, — he commands his own obedience, and he obeys his own commanding. Though throned above all nations, a king of kings, yet the faithful humble vassal of his own heart; though he serve, yet regal, doing imperial service; he escapes outward constraint by inward anticipation; and all that could be rightly named as his duty to others, he has, ere demand, already discovered, and engaged in, as part of his duty to himself. Now it is the expression of royal freedom in loyal service, of sovereignty in obedience, courage in concession, and strength in forbearance, which makes manners noble. Low may he bow, not with loss, but with access of dignity, who bows with an elevated and ascending heart: there is nothing loftier, nothing less allied to abject behavior, than this grand lowliness. The worm, because it is low, cannot be lowly; but man, uplifted in token of supremacy, may kneel in adoration, bend in courtesy, and stoop in condescension. Only a great pride, that is, a great and reverential repose in one’s own being, renders possible a noble humility, which is a great and reverential acknowledgment of the being of others; this humility in turn sustains a higher self-reverence; this again resolves itself into a more majestic humility; and so run, in ever enhancing wave, the great circles of inward honor and outward grace. And without this self-sustaining return of the action into itself, each quality feeding itself from its correlative opposite, there can be no high behavior. This is the reason why qualities loftiest in kind and largest in measure are vulgarly mistaken, not for their friendly opposites, but for their mere contraries, — why a very profound sensibility, a sensibility, too, peeuliarly of the spirit, not of nerve only, is sure to be named coldness, as Mr. Ruskin recently remarks, — why vast wealth of good pride, in its often meek acceptance of wrong, in its quiet ignoring of insult, in its silent superiority to provocation, passes with the superficial and petulant for poverty of pride and mere mean-spiritedness,— why a courage which is not partial, but total, coexisting, as it always does, with a noble peacefulness, with a noble inaptness for frivolous hazards, and a noble slowness to take offence, is, in its delays and forbearances, thought by the halfcourageous to be no better than cowardice ; — it is, as we have said, because great qualities revolve and repose in orbits of reciprocation with their opposites, which opposites are by coarse and ungentle eyes misdeemed to be contraries. Feeling transcendently deep and powerful is unimpassioned and far lowervoiced than indifference and unfeelingness, being wont to express itself, not by eloquent ebullition,but by extreme understatement, or even by total silence. Sir Walter Raleigh, when at length he found himself betrayed to death — and how basely betrayed ! — by Sir Lewis Stukely, only said, “ Sir Lewis, these actions will not turn to your credit.” The New Testament tells us of a betrayal yet more quietly received. These are instances of noble manners.
What actions are absolutely moral is determined by application of the same law, — those only which repose wholly in themselves, being to themselves at once motive and reward. “ Miserable is he,” says the “ Bhagavad Gita,” “ whose motive to action lies, not in the action itself, but in its reward.” Duty purchased with covenant of special delights is not duty, but is the most pointed possible denial of it. The just man looks not beyond justice; the merciful reposes in acts of mercy ; and he who would be bribed to equity and goodness is not only bad, but shameless. But of this no further words.
Rest is sacred, celestial, and the appreciation of it and longing for it are mingled with the religious sentiment of all nations. I cannot remember the time when there was not to me a certain ineffable suggestion in the apostolic words, “ There remaineth, therefore, a rest for the people of God.” But the repose of the godlike must, as that of God himself, be infinitely removed from mere sluggish inactivity ; since the conception of action is the conception of existence itself, — that is, of Being in the act of self-manifestation. Celestial rest is found in action so universal, so purely identical with the great circulations of Nature, that, like the circulation of the blood and the act of breathing, it is not a subtraction from vital resource, but is, on the contrary, part of the very fact of life and all its felicities. This does not exclude rhythmic or recreative rest; but the need of such rest detracts nothing from pleasure or perfection. In heaven also, if such figure of speech be allowable, may be that toil which shall render grateful the cessation from toil, and give sweetness to sleep ; but right, weariness has its own peculiar delight., no less than right exercise ; and as the glories of sunset equal those of dawn, so with equal, though diverse pleasure, should noble and temperate labor take off its sandals for evening repose, and put them on to go forth “ beneath the opening eyelids of the morn.” Yet, allowing a place for this rhythm in the detail and close inspection even of heavenly life, it still holds true on the broad scale, that pure beauty and beatitude are found there only where life and character sweep in orbits of that complete expression which is at once divine labor and divine repose.
Observe, now, that this rest-motion, as being without waste or loss, is a manifested immortality, since that which wastes not ends not; and therefore it puts into every motion the very character and suggestion of immortal life. Yea, one deed rightly done, and the doer is in heaven, — is of the company of immortals. One deed so done that in it is no mortality;; and in that deed the meaning of man’s history, — the meaning, indeed, and the glory, of existence itself,— are declared. Easy, therefore, it is to see how any action may be invested with universal significance and the utmost conceivable charm. The smaller the realm and the humbler the act into which this amplitude and universality of spirit are carried, the more are they emphasized and set off; so that, without opportunity of unusual occasion, or singular opulence of natural power, a man’s life may possess all that majesty which the imagination pictures in archangels and in gods. Indeed, it is but simple statement of fact to say, that he who rests utterly in his action shall belittle not only whatsoever history has recorded, but all which that poet of poets, Mankind, has ever dreamed or fabled of grace and greatness. He shall not peer about with curiosity to spy approbation, or with zeal to defy censure ; he shall not know it there be a spectator in the world; his most public deed shall be done in a divine privacy, on which no eye intrudes,—his most private in the boundless publicities of Nature ; his deed, when done, falls away from him, like autumn apples from their boughs, no longer his, but the world’s and destiny’s; neither the captive of yesterday nor the propitiator of to-morrow, he abides simply, majestically, like a god, in being and doing. Meanwhile, blame and praise whirl but as unrecognized cloudlets of gloom or glitter beneath his feet, enveloping and often blinding those who utter them, but to him never attaining.
It is not easy at present to suggest the real measure and significance of such manhood, because this age has debased its imagination, by the double trick, first, of confounding man with his body, and next, of considering the body, not as a symbol of truth, but only as an agent in the domain of matter, — comparing its size with the sum total of physical space, and its muscular power with the sum total of physical forces. Yet
A man is no outlying province, nor does any province lie beyond him. East, West, North, South, and height and depth are contained in his bosom, the poles of his being reaching more widely, his zenith and nadir being more sublime and more profound. We are cheated by nearness and intimacy. Let us look at man with a telescope, and we shall find no star or constellation of sweep so grand, no nebulae or star-dust so provoking and suggestive to fancy. In truth, there are no words to say how either large or small, how significant or insignificant, men may be. Though solar and stellar systems amaze by their grandeur of Scale, yet is true manhood the maximum of Nature; though microscopic and sub-microscopic protophyta amaze by their inconceivable littleness, yet is mock manhood Nature’s minimum. The latter is the only negative quantity known to Nature; the former the only revelation of her entire heart.
In concluding, need I say that only the pure can repose in his action, — only he obtain deliverance by his deed, and after deliverance from it ? The egotism, the baseness, the partialities that are in our performance are hooks and barbs by which it wounds anil wearies us in the passage, and clings to us being past.
Law governs all; no favor is shown; the event is as it must be ; only he who has no blinding partiality toward himself, who is whole and one with the whole, be who is Nature and Law and divine Necessity, can be blest with that blessedness which Nature is able to give only by her presence. There is a labor and a rest that are the same, one fact, one felicity; in this are power, beauty, immortality; by existence as a whole it is always perfectly exemplified; to man, as the eye of existence, it is also possible; but it is possible to him only as he is purely man, — only as he abandons himself to the divine principles of his life: in other words, this Sabbath remaineth in very deed to no other than the people of God.