All our arts aim to win this vantage. We cannot bring the heavenly powers to us, but, if we will only choose our jobs in directions in which they travel, they will undertake them with the greatest pleasure. It is a peremptory rule with them, that they never go out of their road. We are dapper little busybodies, and run this way and that way superserviceably; but they swerve never from their foreordained paths, — neither the sun, nor the moon, nor a bubble of air, nor a mote of dust.
And as our handiworks borrow the elements, so all our social and political action leans on principles. To accomplish anything excellent, the will must work for catholic and universal ends. A puny creature walled in on every side, as Donne wrote, —
— unless above himself he can
Erect himself, how poor a thing is man!
but when his will leans on a principle, when he is the vehicle of ideas, he borrows their omnipotence. Gibraltar may be strong, but ideas are impregnable, and bestow on the hero their invincibility. “It was a great instruction,” said a saint in Cromwell’s war, “that the best courages are but beams of the Almighty.” Hitch your wagon to a star. Let us not fag in paltry works which serve our pot and bag alone. Let us not lie and steal. No god will help. We shall find all their teams going the other way, — Charles’s Wain, Great Bear, Orion, Leo, Hercules: —every god will leave us. Work rather for those interests which the divinities honor and promote, — justice, love, freedom, knowledge, utility.
If we can thus ride in Olympian chariots by putting our works in the path of the celestial circuits, we can harness also evil agents, the powers of darkness, and force them to serve against their will the ends of wisdom and virtue. Thus, a wise Government puts fines and penalties on pleasant vices. What a benefit would the American Government, now in the hour of its extreme need, render to itself, and to every city, village, and hamlet in the States, if it would tax whiskey and rum almost to the point of prohibition! Was it Bonaparte who said that he found vices very good patriots? — “he got five millions from the love of brandy, and he should be glad to know which of the virtues would pay him as much.” Tobacco and opium have broad backs, and will cheerfully carry the load of armies, if you choose to make them pay high for such joy as they give and such harm as they do.
These are traits, and measures, and modes; and the true test of civilization is, not the census, nor the size of cities, nor the crops, — no, but the kind of man the country turns out. I see the vast advantages of this country, spanning the breadth of the temperate zone. I see the immense material prosperity, — towns on towns, states on states, and wealth piled in the massive architecture of cities, California quartz-mountains dumped down in New York to be re-piled architecturally along-shore from Canada to Cuba, and thence westward to California again. But it is not New-York streets built by the confluence of workmen and wealth of all nations, though stretching out toward Philadelphia until they touch it, and northward until they touch New Haven, Hartford, Springfield, Worcester, and Boston, — not these that make the real estimation. But, when I look over this constellation of cities which animate and illustrate the land, and see how little the Government has to do with their daily life, how self-helped and self-directed all families are, — knots of men in purely natural societies, — societies of trade, of kindred blood, of habitual hospitality, house and house, man acting on man by weight of opinion, of longer or better-directed industry, the refining influence of women, the invitation which experience and permanent causes open to youth and labor, — when I see how much each virtuous and gifted person whom all men consider lives affectionately with scores of excellent people who are not known far from home, and perhaps with great reason reckons these people his superiors in virtue, and in the symmetry and force of their qualities, I see what cubic values America has, and in these a better certificate of civilization than great cities or enormous wealth.