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Authors: Newell Dwight Hillis

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Thus, each new day is a new continent to be explored. Each youth is a new creature, full of delightful and mysterious possibilities. Each brain comes clothed with its own secret, having its own orbit, attaining its own unique experience. Ours is a world in which each individual, each country, each age, each day, has a history peculiarly its own. This newness is a perpetual stimulant to curiosity and study. Gladstone's recipe for never growing old is, "Search out some topic in nature or life in which you have never hitherto been interested, and experience its fascinations." For some, once a picture or book has been seen, the pleasure ceases. Delight dies with familiarity. Such persons look back to the days of childhood as to the days of wonder and happiness. But the man of real vision ever beholds each rock, each herb and flower with the big eyes of children, and with a mind of perpetual wonder. For him the seed is a fountain gushing with new delights. Every youth should repeat the experience of John Ruskin.[2] Such was the enthusiasm that this author felt for God's world, that when he approached some distant mountain or saw the crags hanging over the waters, or the clouds marching through the sky, "a shiver of fear, mingled with awe," set him quivering with joy--such joy as the artist pupil feels in the presence of his noble master, such a kindling of mind and heart as Dante felt on approaching his Beatrice. Phillips Brooks grew happier as he grew older, and at fifty-seven he said: "Life seems a feast in which God keeps the best wine until the last." Up to the very end the great preacher grew by leaps and bounds, because he never lost that enthusiasm for life that makes zest and newness among life's best teachers.

By a strange paradox men are taught by monotony as well as by newness. Ours is a world where the words, "Blessed be drudgery," are full of meaning. Culture and character come not through consuming excitements nor the whirl of pleasures. The granary is filled, not by the thunderous forces that appeal to the eye and ear, but by the secret, invisible agents; the silent energies, the mighty monarchs hidden in roots and in seeds. What rioting storms cannot do is done by the silent sap and sunshine. All the fundamental qualities called patience, perseverance, courage, fidelity, are the gains of drudgery. Character comes with commonplaces. Greatness is through tasks that have become insipid, and by duties that are irksome. The treadmill is a divine teacher. He who shovels sand year in and year out needs not our pity, for the proverb is "Every man has his own sand heap." The greatest mind, fulfilling its career, once the freshness has worn off, pursues a hackneyed task and finds the duties irksome. It is better so. A seer has suggested that the voices of earth are dulled that we may hear the whisper of God; earth's colors are toned down that we may see things invisible.

Solitude is a wise teacher. Going apart the youth grows great. Emerson speaks of sailing the sea with God alone. The founders of astronomy dwelt on a plain of sand, where the horizon held not one vine-clad hill nor alluring vista. Wearying of the yellow sea, their thoughts journeyed along the heavenly highway and threaded the milky way, until the man became immortal. Moses became the greatest of jurists, because during the forty years when his mind was creative and at its best, he dwelt amid the solitude of the sand hills around Sinai, and was free for intellectual and moral life. History tells of a thousand men who have maintained virtue in adversity only to go down in hours of prosperity. That is, man is stimulated by the crisis; conflict provokes heroism, persecution lends strength. But, denied the exigency of a great trial, men who seemed grand fall all to pieces. Triumphant in adversity, men are vanquished by drudgery. An English author has expressed the belief that many men "achieve reputations when all eyes are focused upon them, who fall into petty worthlessness amid obscurity and monotony. Life's crowning victory belongs to those who have won no brilliant battle, suffered no crushing wrong; who have figured in no great drama, whose sphere was obscure, but who have loved great principles midst small duties, nourished sublime hopes amid vulgar cares, and illustrated eternal principles in trifles."

Responsibility is a teacher of righteousness. God educates men by casting them upon their own resources. Man learns to swim by being tossed into life's maelstrom and left to make his way ashore. No youth can learn to sail his life-craft in a lake sequestered and sheltered from all storms, where other vessels never come. Skill comes through sailing one's craft amidst rocks and bars and opposing fleets, amidst storms and whirls and counter currents. English literature has a proverb about the incapacity of rich men's sons. The rich man himself became mighty because he began in poverty, had no hand to help him forward, and many hands to hold him back. After long wrestling with opposing force he compacted within himself the strength and foresight, the frugality and wisdom of a score of ordinary men. The school of hard knocks made him a man of might. But his son, cradled in a soft nest, sheltered from every harsh wind, loving ease more than industry, is in danger of coming up without insight into the secrets of his profession or industry.

Responsibility alone drives man to toil and brings out his best gifts. For this reason the pensions given to scholars are said to have injured some men of genius. Johnson wrote his immortal Rasselas to raise money to buy his mother's coffin. Hunger and pain drove Lee to the invention of his loom. Left a widow with a family to support, in mid-life Mrs. Trollope took to authorship and wrote a score of volumes. The most piteous tragedy in English literature is that of Coleridge. Wordsworth called him the most myriad-minded man since Shakespeare, and Lamb thought him "an archangel slightly damaged." The generosity of his friends gave the poet a home and all its comforts without the necessity of toil. Is it possible that ease and lack of responsibility, with opium, helped wreck him? What did that critic mean when he said of a rich young friend, "He needs poverty alone to make him a great painter?" It is responsibility that teaches caution, foresight, prudence, courage, and turns feeblings into giants.

The extremes and contrasts of life do much to shape character. Ours is a world that moves from light to dark, from heat to cold, from summer to winter. On the crest to-day, the hero is in the trough to-morrow. Moses, yesterday a deserted slave child, to-day adopted by a king's daughter; David, but yesterday a shepherd boy with his harp, and to-day dwelling in the King's palace; men yesterday possessed of plenty, to-day passing into penury--these illustrate the extremes of life. These contrasts are as striking as those we find on the sunny slopes of the Alps. There the foothills are covered with vineyards, while the summits have everlasting snow. In Wyoming hot springs gush close beside snowdrifts. During man's few years, and brief, he experiences many reverses. He flits on between light and dark. It is hard for the leader to drop back into the ranks. It is not easy for him who hath led a movement to its success to see his laurels fall leaf by leaf. After a long and dangerous service men grown old and gray are succeeded by the youth to whom society owes no debt. Thus man journeys from strength to invalidism, from prosperity to adversity, from joy to sorrow, or goes from misery to happiness, from defeat to victory.

Not one single person but sooner or later is tested by these alterations. God sends prosperity to lift character to its highest levels. It is an error to suppose that the higher manhood flourishes in extreme poverty. Watkinson has beautifully said that "humility is never so lovely as when arrayed in scarlet; moderation is never so impressive as when it sits at banquets; simplicity is never so delightful as when it dwells amidst magnificence; purity is never so divine as when its unsullied robes are worn in a king's palace; gentleness is never so touching as when it exists in the powerful. When men combine gold and goodness, greatness and godliness, genius and graces, human nature is at its best." On the other hand, adversity is a supplement, making up what prosperity lacks. The very abundance of Christmas gifts ofttimes causes children to forget the parents who gave them. Some are adorned by prosperity as mountains are adorned with rich forests. Others stand forth with the bareness, but also with the grandeur and enduring strength, of Alpine mountains. Character is like every other structure--nothing tests it like extremes.

When friendship and love have enriched man, and deepened all the secret springs of his being, when grief hath refined and suffering mellowed him, then God sends the ideals to stimulate men to new achievements. An ideal is a pattern or plan held up before the man's eye for imitation, realization and guidance. In the heart's innermost temple of silence, whither neither friend nor enemy may ever come, there the soul unveils its secret ideal. The pattern there erected at once proclaims what man is and prophesies what he shall be. In old age men think what they are, but in youth, what we think, we come to be. Therefore must the pattern held up before the mind's eye be of the highest and purest. The legend tells us of the master's apprentice, who, from the small bits of glass that had been thrown away constructed a window of surpassing loveliness. The ideal held up before the boy's mind organized and brought together these broken bits, and wrought them into lines of perfect beauty.

Thus by his inner aspirations, man lives and builds. The inner eye reveals to the toiler a better tool or law or reform, and the realization of these visions gives social progress. The vision of conscience reveals new possibilities of character, and these give duty. The vision of the heart reveals new possibilities of friendship, and these give the home. As the sun standing upon the horizon orbs itself, first in each dewdrop, and afterward lifts the whole earth forward, so the ideal repeats itself, first in the individual heart, and afterward lifts all society forward. Thus unto man slowly building up his character comes the supreme ideal, when Jesus Christ stands forth fully revealed in His splendor. He is no empty abstraction, no bloodless theory, but bone of our bone, brother of our own body and breath, yet marred by no weakness, scarred by no sin, tossing back temptations as some Gibraltar tosses back the sea's billows and the bits of drift-wood. Strong, He subdued His strength in the day of battle, and bore Himself like iron. Yet He was so gentle that His white hand felt the fall of the rose leaf, while He inflected His gianthood to the needs of the little child. Nor could He be holden of the bands of death, for He clove a pathway through the grave, and made death's night to shine like the day. "I have but one passion," said Tholuck. "It is He! it is He!" As Shakespeare first reveals to the young poet his real riches of imagination, as Raphael first unveils to the young artist the possibilities of color, so man knows not his infinite capabilities until Jesus Christ stands forth in all His untroubled splendor. Having Him, man has not only his Teacher and Saviour, but also his Master and Model, fulfilling all the needs of the highest manhood and the noblest character.


[2] Modern Painters, vol. III, pg. 368.


"As some most pure and noble face, Seen in the thronged and hurrying street, Sheds o'er the world a sudden grace, A flying odor sweet, Then passing leaves the cheated sense Balked with a phantom excellence.

'So in our soul, the visions rise Of that fair life we never led; They flash a splendor past our eyes, We start, and they are fled; They pass and leave us with blank gaze, Resigned to our ignoble days."

The Fugitive Ideal, by Wm. Watson.

"Contentment and aspiration are in every true man's life."

"No bird can race in the great blue sky against a noble soul. The eagle's wing is slow compared with the flight of hope and love."--

"We figure to ourselves The thing we like, and then we build it up-- As chance will have it, on the rock or sand; For time is tired of wandering o'er the world, And home-bound fancy runs her bark ashore."




Man is a pilgrim journeying toward the new and beautiful city of the Ideal. Aspiration, not contentment, is the law of his life. To-day's triumph dictates new struggles to-morrow. The youth flushed with success may couch down in the tent of satisfaction for one night only; when the morning comes he must fold his tent and push on toward some new achievement. That man is ready for his burial robes who lets his present laurels satisfy him. God has crowded the world with antidotes to contentment and with stimulants to progress. The world is not built for sluggards. The earth is like a road, a poor place for sleeping in, a good thing to travel over. The world is like a forge, unfit for residence, but good for putting temper in a warrior's sword. Life is built for waking up dull men, making lazy men unhappy, and the low-flying miserable. When other incitements fail, fear and remorse following behind scourge men forward; but ideals in front are the chief stimulants to growth. Each morning, waking, the soul sees the ideal man one ought to be rising in splendor to shame the man one is. Columbus was tempted forward by the floating branches, the drifting weeds, the strange birds, unto the new world rich in tropic-treasure. So by aspirations and ideals God lures men forward unto the soul's undiscovered country. In the long ago the star moving on before guided the wise men of the East to the manger where the young child lay; and still in man's night God hangs aspirations--stars for guiding men away from the slough of content to the hills of paradise. The soul hungers for something vast, and ideals lure to the long voyage, the distant harbor, and are the stars by which the pilgrim shapes his course.

Life's great teachers are friendship, occupation, travel, books, marriage, and chiefly heart-hungers. These yearnings within are the springs of all man's progress without. Sometimes philosophers say that the history of civilization is the history of great men. Confessing this, let us go on and note that the history of all great men is the history of their ideal hours, realized in conduct and character. Waking at midnight in his bleak garret, the vision splendid rose before John Milton. The boy of twelve would fain write a poem that the world would not willingly let die. He knew that whoever would write a heroic poem must first live a heroic life. From that hour the youth followed the ideal that led him on, pursuing knowledge unceasingly for seven years, never closing book before midnight, leaving Cambridge with the approbation of the good, and without stain or spot upon his life. Afterward, making a pilgrimage to Italy for study in that land of song and story, he heard of the civil wars in England, and at once returned, putting away his ambition for culture because he thought it base to be traveling in ease and safety abroad while his fellow-citizens were fighting for liberty at home. When he resisted a brutal soldier's attack who lifted his sword to say, "I have power to kill you," the scholar replied: "And I have power to be killed and to despise my murderer." Growing old and blind, and falling upon evil days and tongues, out of his heroic life he wrote his immortal poem. Dying, he still pursued his ideal, for moving into the valley and shadow, the blind poet whispered: "Still guides the heavenly vision!"

BOOK: A Man's Value to Society
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