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Authors: Newell Dwight Hillis

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The number and value of our thoughts determine a man's value to society. No investments bring so high a rate of interest as investments of brain. Hand work earns little, but head work much. In a Western camp one miner put his lower brain into the pickaxe and earned $2.00 a day; another miner put his higher brain into the stamp-mill and soon was receiving a score of dollars daily for his work; a third youth, toiling in the same mine, put his genius into an electric process for extracting ore, and sold his invention for a fortune. It seems that wealth was not in the pick, but in the thoughts that handled it. Had God intended man to do his work through the body, man's legs would have been long enough to cover leagues at a stride, his biceps would have been strong enough to turn the crank for steamships, his back would have been Atlantean for carrying freight cars across the plains.

But, instead of giving man long legs, God gave him a mind able to make locomotives. Instead of telescopic eyes, he gave man mind to invent far-seeing glasses. Instead of a thousand fingers for weaving, he gave man five fingers and genius for inventing a thousand steel fingers to do his spinning. Wealth is not in things, but in the brain that shapes raw material. Vast was the sum of gold taken out of California, but this nation might well pay down a hundred Californias for a man to invent a process to make coal drive the engine without the intervention of steam. That inventor would enable the street cars for one cent to carry the people of the tenement-house district ten miles into the country in ten minutes, and thereby, through sunshine and fresh air and solitude, would solve a hundred problems that now vex the statesman and the moralist. A young botanist in Kansas has just announced his purpose to cross the milkweed and the strawberry, so that hereafter strawberries and cream may grow upon the same bush. His task may be doomed to failure, but that youth at least understands that thought turned the wild rice into wheat; thought turned the sweet briar into the crimson rose; brains mixed the pigments for Paul Veronese, and gave the canvas worth a few florins the value of tens of thousand of dollars. Already wise thoughts have turned the barbarian into a gentleman and citizen, and some glad day thoughts will crown man with the attributes and qualities of God.

Of old, the Greek philosopher described the origin of man. One day Ceres, in crossing a stream, saw a human face emerging from the soil. It was the face of a man. Standing by this earth-born creature, the goddess extricated his head and chest; but left his legs fastened in the soil. Now, the invisible friends that free man from his earth fetters are those divine visitors called ideas and thoughts. God hath made thoughts to be golden chariots, in which the soul is swept upward into the heavenly heights.

When thoughts have sown man's pathway with happiness and peace they go on to determine character and futurity. Each life memorable for goodness and nobility has for its motive power some noble thought. Each hero has climbed up to immortality upon those golden rounds called good thoughts. Here is that cathedral spirit, John Milton. In his loneliness and blindness his mind was his kingdom. He loved to think of things true and pure and of good report. Oft at midnight upon the poet's ear there fell the sound of celestial music, that afterward he transposed into his "Paradise Regained." Dying, it was given him to proudly say: "I am not one of those who have disgraced beauty of sentiment by deformity of conduct, nor the maxims of the freeman by the actions of the slave, but by the grace of God, I have kept my soul unsullied." Here is the immortal Bunyan, spending his best years in Bedford jail because he insisted on giving men the message God had first given him; but he, too, opened his mind only to good thoughts. For him, also, dawned the heavenly vision. As the prison doors opened before Peter and the angel, so the dungeon walls parted before his thoughts. Walking about in glad freedom, he crossed the portals of the Palace Beautiful. From its marble steps he saw afar off the Delectable Mountains. Hard by ran the River of the Water of Life. The breezes of the hills of Paradise cooled his hot temples and lifted his hair. His regal thoughts crowned the Bedford tinker and made him king in English literature.

Here also is the carpenter's Son rising before each earthly pilgrim like a star in the night. A man of truly colossal intellect, incomparable as He strides across the realms and ages, yet always thinking the gentlest, kindliest thoughts; thoughts of mildness as well as of majesty; thoughts of humanity as well as divinity. His thoughts were medicines for hurt hearts; His thoughts were wings to all the low-flying; His thoughts freed those who had been snared in the thickets; His thoughts set an angel down beside each cradle; His thoughts of the incarnation rendered the human body forever sacred; His thoughts of the grave sanctified the tomb. Dying and rising, His thoughts clove an open pathway through the sky. Taught by Him, the people have learned to think--not only great thoughts, but good ones, and also how to turn thoughts into life.

Bringing their thoughts to God, God has turned thinking into character. Each spinner who in modesty and fidelity tends his loom, spins indeed, garments for others, but also weaves himself invisible garments of everlasting life. Each shipbuilder fastening his timbers together with honest thoughts will find that his thoughts have become ships carrying him over the sea to the harbor of God. Each worker putting integrity into gold and silver will find that he has carved his own character into a beauty beyond that of gems and sapphires. For his thoughts drag into futurity after them. So deeply was St. George Mivart impressed by this that he said: "The old pauper woman whom I saw to-day in the poorhouse, in her hunger saving her apple to give to the little orphan just brought in, and unraveling her stocking and bending her twisted old fingers to knit its yarn into socks for the blue feet of the child will, I verily believe, begin her life at death with more intellectual genius--mark the words, intellectual genius--than will begin that second life any statesman or prime minister or man famed in our day. For I know of none who hath been faithful in his much after the fashion of the pauper woman's fidelity with her little."

For intellect weighs light as punk against the gold of character. Should God give us to choose between goodness and genius, we may well say, "Give genius to Lucifer, let mine be the better part." Intellect is cold as the ice-palace in Quebec. Heart-broken and weary-worn by life's battle, men draw near to some great-hearted men, as pilgrims crowd close to the winter's fire. Men neither draw their chairs close around a block of ice, nor about a brilliant intellect. Our quarrel with the foolish scientist is that he makes God out as infinite brain. We rejoice at the revelation of Christ, because He portrays God as heart and not genius.

God be thanked for great thoughts, but a thousand times more, God be praised for good thoughts! They are fuel for the fires of enthusiasm. They are rudders that guide us heavenward. They are seeds for great harvests of joy. They fulfill the tale of the fairies who in the night while men slept bridged chasms, builded palaces, laid out streets and lined them with homes, built the city around with walls. For every thought is a builder, every purpose a mansion, and every affection a carpenter. As the builders of the Cologne Cathedral were guided by the plan and pattern of Von Rile, so man's thoughts are builded after that matchless model, Jesus Christ. And while our thoughts work, His thoughts work, also adding beauty to the soul's strength. In the olden tale the artist pupil through very weariness fell asleep before the picture that disappointed him. While he slept his master stole into the room, and with a few swift touches corrected the errors and brought out the lines of lustrous beauty, kindling new hope within the boy's heart. And there are unexpected providences in life, strange influences, interventions and voices in the night. These events over which we have no control, these thoughts of the Master above, shape us not less than the thoughts that build from within. It seems that not one, but two are working upon the soul's structure. As one day in the presence of his master Michael Angelo pulled down the scaffolding in the Sistine Chapel, and the workmen cleared away the ropes and plaster and litter, and looking up men saw the faces of angels and seraphs, with their lustrous and immortal beauty, so some glad day will that angel named Death pull down life's scaffolding and set forever in the sunlight that structure built of thoughts, the stately mansion reared in the mind, the building not made with hands, the character, eternal in the heavens.

THE MORAL USES OF MEMORY

"Without memory, man is a perpetual infant."--
Locke.

"The memory plays a great part in ranking men. Quintilian reckoned it the measure of genius. The poets represented the muses as the daughters of memory."--
Emerson.

"Recollection is the only paradise from which we cannot be turned out."--
Richter.

"A land of promise, a land of memory, A land of promise flowing with the milk And honey of delicious memories." --
Tennyson.

"I have a room wherein no one enters save I myself alone; There sits a blessed memory on a throne. There my life centers." --
C.G. Rosetti.

VI

THE MORAL USES OF MEMORY

The soul is a monarch whose rule includes three realms. Its throne is in the present, but its scepter extends backward over yesterday and forward over to-morrow. The divinity that presides over the past is memory; to-day is ruled by reason, to-morrow is under the regency of hope. In every age memory has been an unpopular goddess. The poet Byron pictures this divinity as sitting sorrowing midst mouldering ruins and withering leaves. But the orators unveil the future as a tropic realm, magical, mysterious and surpassingly rich. The temple where hope is worshiped is always crowded; her shrines are never without gifts of flowers and sweet songs.

But at length has come a day when man perceives that the vast treasure to which the present has fallen heir was bequeathed by that friend called yesterday. The soul increases in knowledge and culture, because as it passes through life's rich fields memory plucks the ripe treasure on either hand, leaving behind no golden sheaf. Philosophy, therefore, opposes that form of poetry that portrays yesterday by the falling tower, the yellow leaf, the setting sun. Memory is a gallery holding pictures of the past. Memory is a library holding wisdom for to-morrow's emergencies. Memory is a banqueting-hall on whose walls are the shields of vanquished enemies. Memory is a granary holding bread for to-morrow's hunger, seed for to-morrow's sowing. That man alone has a great to-morrow who has back of him a multitude of great yesterdays.

Aristotle used memory as a measure of genius. He believed that every great man was possessed of a great memory in his own department. He was the great artist whose mind searched out and whose memory retained the beauty of each sweet child, the loveliness of each maiden and mother. He was the great scientist who remembered all the facts, forgot no exception, and grouped all under laws. The great orator was he whose memory stood ready to furnish all truths gleaned from books and conversation, from travel and experience--weapons these with which the orator faces his hearers in a noble cause, controls and conquers them.

After driving through Windsor Park, Doré, the artist, recognized his debt to memory by observing that he could recall every tree he had passed, and draw each shrub from memory. We are indebted to the mechanical genius of Watt for the steam engine; but, before beginning his work, the inventive faculty asked memory to bring forward all objects, forces and facts suggested by and relating to that steaming tea kettle. Genius cannot create without material upon which to work. It is given to the eye and the ear and the reason to obtain the facts; memory stores these treasures away until they are needed; and, selecting therefrom, the inventive faculty fashions physical things into tools, beautiful things into pictures, ideas into intellectual philosophies, morals into ethical systems. The architect is helpless unless he remembers where are the quarries and what their kinds; where the marbles and what their colors; where the forests and what their trees.

Thus all the creative minds, from Phidias to Shakespeare, have united strength of memory with fertility of invention. As the Gobelin tapestry, depicting the siege of Troy, is woven out of myriads of tinted threads, so each Hamlet and each "In Memoriam" is an intellectual texture woven out of ideas and aspirations furnished by memory. Indeed, without this faculty there could be no knowledge or culture. Destroy memory and man would remain a perpetual infant. Because the mind carries forward each new idea and experience, there comes a day when the youth stands forth a master in his chosen craft or profession. It is memory that unifies man's life and thought, and binds all his experiences into one bundle.

In a large sense civilization itself is a kind of racial memory. Moving backward toward the dawn of history, we come to a time when man stood forth as a savage, his house a cave, his clothes a leather girdle, his food locusts and berries. But to-day he is surrounded by home, and books and pictures, by looms and trains and ships. Now yesterday was the friend that gave man all this rich treasure. We pluck clusters from vines other generations planted. We ride in trains and ships other thinkers invented. We admire pictures and statues other hands painted and carved. Our happiness is through laws and institutions for which other multitudes died. We sing songs that the past did write, and speak a language that generations long dead did fashion.

When De Tocqueville visited our country, he journeyed westward until he stood upon the very frontier of civilization. Before him lay the forests and prairies, stretching for thousands of miles toward the setting sun. But what impressed him most deeply was the civilization behind him, reaching to the Atlantic--a civilization including towns and villages, with free institutions, with schoolroom and church and library. With joy he reflected that the mental and moral harvests behind him were sufficient to sow the vast unconquered land with treasure. Thus each to-day is a frontier line upon which the soul stands. It is the necessity of life for man to journey backward into the past for food and seed with which to sow the unconquered future. For each individual yesterday holds the beginnings of art and architecture. Yesterday holds the beginnings of reform and philanthropy. Yesterday contains the rise and victory of freedom. Yesterday holds the first schoolroom and college and library. Yesterday holds the cross and all its victories over ignorance and sin. Yesterday is a river pouring its rich floods forward, lending majesty and momentum to all man's enterprises. Yesterday is a temple whose high domes and wide walls and flaming altars other hands and hearts have built. For the individual, memory is a granary for mental treasure; and, for the race, civilization is a kind of social memory.

BOOK: A Man's Value to Society
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