William Henry Channing, “Call of the Present” (1843)

William Henry Channing, editor of The Present (1843-44) and The Spirit of the Age (1849-50), was well placed to gather together the radical threads of the early 1840s. The nephew of the prominent Unitarian minister William Ellery Channing, and a friend or acquaintance of figures like Elizabeth Palmer Peabody, William Batchelder Greene, Orestes Brownson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Charles Lane, Bronson Alcott, etc., he was in touch with much of what was bubbling up in the years prior to the 1848 revolutions. The works of Fourier, Swedenborg, Saint Simon and Proudhon all appeared in his publications, and he translated a number of excerpts from the works of Pierre Leroux. The Present featured a three-part manifesto of sorts, “The Call of the Present,” by Channing. Couched in rather sedate, religious language, the casual reader might easily miss or misunderstand Channing’s interventions into important debates (individualism vs. socialism, free trade vs. protection, etc.) and the rather nuanced nature of his responses. Take Channing’s piece as an indication of the extent to which the “antinomian” positions that Proudhon would soon embrace were already floating around, if in somewhat vague forms, in the internal debates among American radical intellectuals in the early days of the American Renaissance.

There are some amusing bits of seemingly contemporary commentary, making you wonder occasionally which “present” you’re in. I particularly like this: “In the wasted millions and massacres of Florida, the horrible carnage of Afghanistan, the brilliant skirmishes of the Arabs…, a world sees and announces the retribution, only too mild to seem just, for atrocious crime.” Apparently, however, we have regressed since 1843, since it is clearly not the case that “Monarch and minister, captain and noble, statesman and politician, who dare to-day, from private or public pique, from ambition or miscalled national pride, to break the holy league of peace, must make up their minds to stand in pillory, and to be cropped as rogues before the bar of Humanity.” Would that it were the case in our present.

Introductory Note

There are revolutions within the Revolution, critical periods and events which radically transform the ways that we talk and think about radical transformation. As a result, we sometimes find, if we delve back into history, that those figures who seem, in some ways, most in sympathy with our own ideals and goals may also seem to sympathize in an almost completely different language, referencing figures and traditions which have no currency for us. Or else—and this is in some ways a more serious problem—we may take their use of a similar vocabulary to our own as evidence of a more complete sympathy than truly exists.

Any attempt to come to terms with the origins of the anarchist and socialist movements is going to be necessarily complicated by the fact that those traditions emerged on what if for us the far side of a very substantial divide, one marked by events like the revolutions of 1848, the American Civil War and Crimean War, the emergence of Darwinism as a social force, the retrospective creation of the categories like “utopian socialist,” the rise of modern industrialism and that of the modern state. Add increased secularization, significant changes in the ways we think about race, gender, sexuality, etc., and the divide between ourselves and the pioneers of our traditions may seem formidable indeed.

There are a quite a number of ways to respond to these difficulties. The anarchist tradition has generally just treated its earliest manifestations as not-quite-anarchisms, our own “utopian socialisms.” In doing so, of course, they have set a precedent, and it comes as no surprise that more contemporary anarchists have created categories like “classical anarchism” in which to safely compartmentalize another generation or two of the tradition. Arguably, this sort of thing has led contributed to the relative paucity of solid history and theory in the movement. But the major alternative, which is to really engage historically with the tradition, warts and paradigm shifts and all, poses some real difficulties.

In 1843, Proudhon was still adapting the work of Charles Fourier to his emerging anarchist philosophy. William Batchelder Greene was attempting to reconcile the philosophy of Pierre Leroux with Baptist theology, and taking the first steps towards his Christian Mutualism. J. K. Ingalls was a rising Universalist minister, although on the road that would lead to his expulsion. Orestes Brownson was teetering on the verge of conversion to Catholicism. Brook Farm was in its third year, and New England radicals were mixing transcendentalism and Fourierism with the teachings of Swedenborg, Leroux and the Eclectics.

This was the context within which William Henry Channing launched The Present, a journal which sought to bring all these various currents together, in the cause of “Social Reorganization.” Translations from the works of Victor Considerant and Pierre Leroux shared the pages with discussion of Greene’s The Doctrine of Life, and Channing’s own essays on political and religious reform.

The journal was short-lived, but its project was continued by diverse hands, in Brook Farm’s Harbinger and journals like The Univercoelum and Spiritual Philosopher. And then in 1849 these two journals merged, once again under the editorship of Channing, as The Spirit of the Age, the broadly mutualist paper which featured the writings of Greene, Ingalls, Channing, Leroux, Proudhon, Marx Edgeworth Lazarus, and many others.

The writings collected here are a sort of prequel and anticipation of the radical literature that blossomed in New England in the revolutionary years around 1848, and all that is at first unfamiliar in them should be considered hints and clues to the sources of that radical blossoming.

The texts collected here are presented on the assumption that this other strategy is worth the effort, and what we learn about the origins of our tradition enable us to better adapt it to present needs.

— Shawn P. Wilbur

  • William Henry Channing, “Call of the Present.—No. 1.—Social Reorganization,” The Present 1, no. 2 (October 15, 1843): 37-44.
  • William Henry Channing, “Call of the Present.—No. 2.—Science of Unity,” The Present 1, no. 3 (November 15, 1843): 73-80.
  • William Henry Channing, “Call of the Present.—No. 3.—Oneness of God and Man,” The Present 1, no. 5-6 (December 15, 1843): 145-155.




Most men, whatever their professions, are actually atheists, as regards any conviction or feeling of Divine agency in human societies. They believe in the influence of Nature upon national destinies, because the evidence is so palpable to sense, that geological formations, the quality of soils and minerals, the breadth and depth of rivers, sand-locked or open coasts, climates, indigenous productions modify the stature, complexion, temperament of men, and give direction to their energy. The horse and camel are not more in keeping with the steppes of Tartary and the deserts of Africa, than the shifting tents of the nomad, and the long-stretching lines of weary caravans. The surface of a country, the electric effects of an atmosphere, degrees of heat and light, show their power in elasticity or sluggishness, monotonousness or versatility of mind and spirit. Mountains, half gloomed in fog, half glowing in the sun, breed superstitions, and people their shaggy sides with lurking phantoms. India’s vast mythologies are in harmony with the rank growth of its vegetation, the fierceness and ample size of its animals; while the marble temples of Greece glisten in the bright air, symbolizing the gay temper and quick wit of those children of genial skies and beautifully-varied landscapes. The most careless, indeed, see, that material conditions would decisively control a nation’s efforts, were it not for the presence of still higher causes; the power of tradition, of neighborhood, of the past acts of humanity. And so this second fact, of the influence of ancestry and alliance with other states, is too apparent for the most superficial students of history to overlook it. The deeds of dead ages re-sow themselves in maxims, memorials, forms, institutions; virtues and crimes, which sweetened or poisoned the air of forgotten races, still bear their fruits of peace or strife. The energy of one grand nature melts in its own mould the sympathies of whole peoples; and spiritual children bear the stamp of their sire’s features to the latest generation. When will the Arab lose the impress of the half deluded, half wilful enthusiasm, of the mingled sternness and voluptuous excess of the prophet of Mecca? And still more affecting to the imagination are the great tides of feeling, which have swept in obedient currents, towards some central attraction, the flowing multitudes of whole ages, the earth round. Who can check a thrill of awe, when he contemplates the hordes of barbarians which gathered to overwhelm, like the floods of Nile, from Ethiopia’s mountain-snows, bearing fresh soil, the wasted civilizations of Southern Europe, and thinks that, at just that season, the Tree of Life had dropped on Calvary the fruit, whose germs were destined to cover the world with the long-lost bloom of Eden?

These influences of Nature, these influences of fellow-nations upon the destinies of any society are thus self-evident, and all partially recognize their action. Why, now, are our minds so gross, sensual, blinded by sloth and custom, as not to see behind these visible causes the presence of the Divine Spirit of life? Let any one but reflectingly ask by what vital power it is, that forms, hues, colors, sounds, and men’s bodily intincts interact and shape each other; and he must admit that it is atheism not to acknowledge, in the prearrangement of these relative agencies and in their actual working, that Primal Will which forever newly animates them. There is a supernatural influence quickening nature’s harmonics, when the balmy nights of Italy, with stars mildly shining in the blue depths, and orange perfumes through the air, and moonbeams over vineyards and white villas sink into the hearts of a romantic people, and nurture germs of beauty in the souls of some Dante or Raphael. He is dull, indeed, who is not, at least by moments, a poet; who does not sometimes see a spiritual mystery shining through our common material existence. Yet more in the commanding charm of energy and genius, of true words and just deeds, of courage and loveliness, cheerfulness and patience, attracting loyal multitudes around some great man, fitted to be a leader in emergencies, do we, unless superlatively stupid, perceive, by instinctive reverence, a superhuman sanction. It was no accident that fitted the farmer of Ely to be a centre of order amid the convulsions of England, that trained the young surveyor of Virginia to guide our loosely federated colonies to victory and national union. Is it enthusiasm, is it not rather plain common sense, to recognize in these coincidences of great powers with great occasions a providential appointment? A good heart sees crowning every man, whose deeds have blessed his brothers, a halo of a heavenly glory. Love, wisdom, reign always by divine right. We feel this, in better hours, to be true of all private and public persons. Now, why should we not be rather more than less subdued with gratitude and trust, when we behold the events, often slight and at the time unnoticed, which herald whole generations towards higher forms of life and thought than the most aspiring could prefigure? No shadowy arm of fate, stretched silent from the clouds, beckons mankind, which, spell-bound, follows into the dark caverns of the future; but, in ever-brightening day, whispers of duty, welcomes of hope, warm hands of friendly opportunity fling open the palace doors, and usher nations and ages, as each is ready, through galleries crowded with wonders, to the presence-chamber of our Father. Could our politicians, statesmen, citizens, but lift their eyes from gambling manoeuvres and selfish scrambles of parties to this Majestic Reality who, however, unseen, slighted, blasphemed, forgotten, still governs and guides, what calm desire of obedience, what patience, strength, and hope would take the place of feverish ambition, of extravagant anticipations, and cowardly despondencies. A great religious faith, admitted into our national counsels and popular caucuses, would be like the light and cool air of morning let in upon a drunken revel. If we would be wise, we should always aspire to look with reverent admiration upon the strivings and tendencies of our existing society. They may seem feeble, blind, ineffectual; there may be much to shock our judgment, offend our taste, and disappoint us; but in the very heart of this age, of this nation, may we hear the voice of God, if we will listen.

The movements of social reform in our time and land are characterized, to a degree never before seen, by the extent and depth of the problems to be solved, and by the number of minds engaged in their solution. No fact is more apparent, than that the demand which is actually made by Christendom, is for a state of society truly ideal in its purity and order; and it is equally apparent, that the people of Christian lands are far, very far, in advance of their governmental policy. It is the profound and wide working of the prevalent discontent with the results of our existing institutions, that makes the age truly a prophetic one. A great hope is struggling towards birth in modern Europe and the United States; and this hope, which is more sublime than ever visited a Lycurgus or a Solon, a Pythagoras or a Plato, fills myriads of souls. Such language, though exactly descriptive of the fact, may well seem extravagant; but a little consideration justifies it fully.

Look, first, at the prevalent feeling in relation to war. When, two years since, England and this country stood with clenched hands and bullying looks, threatening each other about a strip of land, like two big boys quarrelling for an apple, did not the absurdity of the spectacle quite deaden our sense of its atrocity. The vaporing and rhodomontade about “national honor,” sounded like the snapping of crackers on a holiday. There was no possible working of oneself up to the notion, that these grand, bowing plenipotentiaries were really in earnest, and everybody took it for granted, that between the stately interchange of prosy letters, there was no little side-laugh over the nuts and wine of dinners which harmed none but the eaters. War, between two such nations as England and America, is plainly a farce. Nothing but fiendish selfishness in their appointed leaders could, by any chance, bring it about. We read Charles O’Malley, or some of the military or naval novels, with utter astonishment that we are fools enough to be intoxicated by the frothy wit of a flashy author, and made insensible, even for a moment, to the loathsomeness of human butchery. In earlier times, true greatness may have often worn the corslet and hauberk; and the armor-suit of a Joan of Arc seems still worthy of being burnished, in token of patriot devotion. But when, in these days, a young dandy of Regent Street, without one earnest purpose or an impulse of self-sacrifice, pads and girds himself, and, spur on heel and feather in cap, goes curvetting to the wars, for the chance of getting an interesting scratch that shall give him a claim to the hand of some beggared noble’s or some monied plebeian’s daughter, the frivolous criminality of the act is extenuated only on the ground that nations, pretending to be Christian and civilized, still keep hired murderers neatly decked and trimmed for service, so called. We know well, that in our military academies, wasting away in sickly forts on our frontiers or pestilential naval stations, lounging amidst enervating temptations in cities, at home and abroad, are men, old and young, of strong intellects and generous tempers, and even, wonderful as is the inconsistency, of religious principles; so strong is the prestige of military honor, so skilful have been the wiles of politicians to mask this death’s head of war. But if they would confess it, how many men, caught by enthusiasm or by accident in the snare, have misgivings as to this profession of carnage, and would gladly, with honor, escape. The heroism of Christian forgiveness is fast softening the passions which still madden the children of the Goths and Celts; and the baptism of love will soon purge away the poison of that angry blood. The people of Christendom cannot be much longer gagged and handcuffed by ridiculous tyrants, whose vanity thirsts to strut across the stage of history with a train of glittering and jingling followers. War has become intolerably nonsensical to all eyes, as well as disgusting for its cruelty. No extent of empire, no array of troops, no wealth, no professions, no trappings of triumph can save a state of Europe or of America, which is guilty of violence, from being branded as a robber and an assassin. In the wasted millions and massacres of Florida, the horrible carnage of Afghanistan, the brilliant skirmishes of the Arabs in Algiers, and the desolating vengeance of the Circassians, impetuous as mountain torrents, a world sees and announces the retribution, only too mild to seem just, for atrocious crime. Monarch and minister, captain and noble, statesman and politician, who dare to-day, from private or public pique, from ambition or miscalled national pride, to break the holy league of peace, must make up their minds to stand in pillory, and to be cropped as rogues before the bar of Humanity.

What a testimonial to the profound faith in the force of justice, is the sympathy with which the eyes of all are now turned upon O’Connell, and Ireland’s gatherings of temperate, unarmed men. Let the sons of Erin but keep this white banner, that waves above the green, unspotted, and their victory is sure. The hero of Waterloo will be powerless before the serried ranks of loving brethren. The dream, of a congress of nations settling by arbitration questions of conflicting rights, which slaughtered millions and treasuries made bankrupt have left undecided, will one day be a reality. And as has been said by many writers, the time is near, when, if war still be thought necessary, the victims consecrated to this dreadful duty will be arrayed not in garbs of gaudy splendor, but in mourning. The wail and clash of only discordant instruments should wait upon the reluctant steps of public executioners. The love of being one of an ordered mass, following, in rank and file, a leader; the thirst for great deeds and honor, won by sacrifice; the poetry of wild adventure; the promptings of bravery; the flush and overflow of vigor; in a word, all manly elements of character which have thrown, in past days, their haze of glory over battles, and hidden the festering heaps of their charnel pits, will soon find vent in armies of industry, summoned, not to trample with bloody hoofs vineyards and cornfields, but to make green the sandy wastes; not to mark their course with blackened skeletons of burnt towns and villages, but to plant cities in desolate places; not to drown in blood the voices of happy homes, but to spread over a now half-peopled earth brotherhoods of one great family, emulous to multiply well-being. The spirit of Reform now working in society pronounces War accursed.

But the selfishness of War is seen to be the fruit of a more radical selfishness of Commerce. Aggressions are the last result of a feverish thirst for wealth. Let statesmen and political writers deny it, but does not the common sense of the world know, that the true end of England’s massacres of the Chinese was to keep open the opium trade? That island, swarming with manufacturers, stimulated by unjust divisions of property to morbid industrial action, finds itself driven to ever new conquests, for the sake of new markets, and seizes now on the Sandwich Islands, now on a port in Arabia, cuts and keeps open way to her East India colonies, or spreads the webs of her traffic wider and wider in Asia and Africa, with seeming indifference whether these issues for her surplus products, which she must have, are won by fraud or blood. Without exaggeration, it may be said, that her merchants march, to distribute clothes, and food to needy nations, with the swords of cavalry flashing in front, and cannon trundling in the rear. Thus delirious is the passion for gain, which our system of commerce infuses. It is no palliation of such enormities to say, that after they are committed, the religious sentiment of the common people sends bishops in lawn, judges in ermine, and teachers with printing presses and libraries, to make atonement to nations, which a government, instigated by commerce, has thus enslaved. This proof of conscience, in a professedly Christian nation, only aggravates the crime of its political and commercial selfishness. But why not look, rather, at home? Is it not notorious, then, that deacons and church members, and professed religionists of all kinds, daily, on our own frontiers, make drunk the Indians with poisonous potions, that they may the more easily palm off upon them worthless articles for twenty times their cost, and so, individually, pilfer back from these helpless children of the woods, ere they leave the villages of us civilized Christians, the last cent of the inadequate payment which, as a nation, we offer for their stolen lands. Oh! Punic faith! Historians tell us, that the blood of cheating Carthage mingled in the veins of Britons. Our mean frauds on the red men do much to prove our double parentage from swindlers and pirates. But it is not the Anglo-Saxon commerce only which is thus digraced. Noble as in the ideal is the position of a merchant, standing as a medium of exchanging nature’s bounties, a bond of grateful union between mutually benefitted nations, yet, as a fact, no class of men seem universally, the world over, so tempted to deceive; and by their own confession, in all ages, none more generally fall beneath this temptation. The trader, too often, picks the pocket both of producer and consumer, and, instead of benefitting either, feeds himself at the expense of both. But it is nonsense to think such dishonesty an evil natural to commerce. On the contrary, commerce is plainly built upon credit, upon reciprocal confidence. Most manifestly, it was intended by Providence to be a missionary of benevolence; the generous instigator of enlarged usefulness; the regulator of human enterprize. It is the foul harpy of selfishness that has stolen the banquet of good, offered to all in common. The merchant should be the steward and dispenser of Heaven’s bounty. It is our own unjust modes of distribution which have changed him to a gambler. How generally are men awakening to the truth of these self-evident propositions. The great free trade movement is only an assertion of the undeniable fact, that, by God’s unchangable command, love must govern men’s intercourse in traffic, as in every relation. And the advocate of tariffs only asserts, from a different point of view, the same fact, when arguing that if one nation takes the selfish ground all nations must, in self-defence, do the same.

But thanks to Providence! the confusions of the whole commercial world are leaching, through suffering, the lesson of mutual charities, which men would not learn through gratitude. In glutted markets, where industry stagnates, in financial revulsions, shaking like earthquakes prosperous cities, and bankruptcies swallowing, as quicksands, the proudest fortunes; in drugged food and flimsy fabrics; in plausible quackeries and acted lies; in contraband underselling and plunder, by perjury, of national revenues; in the poverty of a pretended over-production, and the hideous contrasts of bursting warehouses amidst multitudes dying by want, are seen the warnings of an impartial Providence. Nations must be mutual benefactors; or else they shall still mark their frontiers with battlements of bones. Commerce must be governed by brotherly kindness; so says Christianity, so says experience; and the signs are plain, that even callous politicians are making ready to obey this clear law of God. The spirit of Reform demands to-day, that the too long divided tribes of mankind be bound in one by reciprocated blessings.

Deeper still pierce the keen eyes of Reform. These collisions of commercial interest, which divide nations, are but the ulcers of a disease that poisons every community at its heart. There is strife in trade, not merely between empires, but in country and cities, of class with class and man with man, in endless competition. By chains or cunning, by the lash or legal provisions, by the whip or wages, man makes his brother a slave. But the world begins to ring with the call of multitudes, lifting up their voices like one man, “away with slavery in every form.” It is a hell on earth. No child of God was born to be a tool of his more powerful or crafty fellow. This broad world is the common home which the Universal Father builds ever anew for all his children, the domain entrusted to the race, in legacy, to beautify and perfect. Labor is not a curse, but a privilege, a discipline, an honor, and its own reward. Work is imitation of God’s creative power. His claim to respect alone is valid, who manifests heaven-given energies in usefulness. He, who is now the bondsman and drudge, shall be, ought to be, nay, truly is, a noble. His pretended master is his beneficiary; his so called superiors live by his charity. The doom of serfdom, black and white, is sealed. The bloody lash of the overseer shall soon hang in our museums, amid collections of instruments of torture used by barbarous ages; and apprentice-deeds and labor-contracts shall be nailed up, as more insidious but not less fatal goads, hard by. The time is not distant, when men shall keep in show-boxes some sixpence or shilling, with this inscription, “a woman’s wages for a long day’s sewing, in the year of our Lord eighteen hundred and forty-three.” Not much longer shall our “help,”—so called—help, indeed, and, thanks to kind necessity, quite often our plague—be cooped in hot attics to swelter at night, that they may stew in hotter kitchens over the long day’s petty toils, or shiver in windy garrets, and rise before day, of frosty mornings, to kindle smouldering fires, while their masters and mistresses, their nurslings, rather, peak and pine, with thin cheeks and flimsy muscles, in voluptuous ease. Not forever, in heaven’s name, let us hope, will workmen bend their backs and develope to monstrous growth one limb or member while others shrink, in monotonous, ever-recurring, weary details of divided labor, amidst gloom and foul air, and Babel noises and dirt and discomfort, while capitalists speculate upon their energy and fatten by their necessities, and Christian teachers preach resigned contentment to these iniquitous disarrangements, as if Providence had ordered what it only permits.

Reform has struck its axe, at length, into the tap root of our social evils. How comes it that science, and invention and skill, stimulated in every nerve, have ended in a pauperism, which opening ever wider, threatens to ingulph society in a vortex of civil convulsion? Strange sight, when, under the shadow of cathedrals, a hungry farmer burns the granary, where is stored the food he worked to produce and now pines for; when mobs in rags break the machinery that multiplies, even beneath their hands, with indefinite rapidity, the very garments which they need to cover their nakedness. Wonderful commentary on Christian mercy, when miserable wretches commit crimes, so called, that they may be fed and housed, and learn trades in penitentiaries; and when condemned felons have what honest laborers beg for in vain, the poor privilege of earning, by daily toil, their daily bread. Surprizing result of Christian civilization, when grave legislators deliberate on laws to check the dwarfing, distortion, and premature decline of children, to whom parents are compelled to give the awful alternative of dying by work or dying by starvation. Reform demands now not charity, but justice. Charity! what efforts has it not made, what millions of treasure, what tears and prayers, what deeds of disinterestedness, what ingenuity and patience, what consecrated lives has it not thrown into this black gulf of poverty, while it yawned only more deep. The charity we need is justice—justice in production, justice in distribution. The evil of evils, socially, is disunited interests. Mankind are one; and, until we admit this principle, as the living germ of communities, we must reap the penalty of folly in prisons and batteries, in armies and polices, in rapine and murder, private and public. The rallying cry today is, Social Reorganization, by peaceful, not revolutionary means, by natural outgrowth from tendencies now at work in society, which shall make our long-professed Christianity possible and practicable in life.

Any observer of the times must see that aspiration, thought, endeavor, on every side are concentrating into this demand for social unions, where all will labor for the good of each, and each for the good of all. Our destiny, our duty is plain before us. We must solve this problem of Unity of Interests. Providence permits no longer postponement of that riddle. By force or by love, by folly or wisdom, by fierce explosion or peaceful concert, must this age answer the question, “how can we have community with individuality, and individuality with community, and so love our neighbors as ourselves.” There is no avoiding, any longer, the clear, strong commands of Christian brotherhood. There is no taking back the step forward that democracy has made. The accidental nobility of earth may well shake on their gilded stools, acting the part of greatness in the tragi-comedy of the world, before the stern whisper, “Equal Rights,” of those who are not in play, but in earnest; while they who honor the true nobility of worth, in character, mind, and energy, must rejoice. Men are more and more, henceforth, to be tested by what they are, not by what they have; by their ability to bestow, not by the chance of their possessions.

The error of the modern doctrine of liberty, has been its tone of selfish independence; its idol has been individualism; its sin, lawlessness; its tendencies, to anarchy. This isolation, however, is an inconsistency; for all liberty rests on the law of love. The very meaning of the assumed right of majorities is, that the race is a unity, that one life flows through it, that the Infinite Spirit needs various minds combined, conspiring, to give full utterance to his commandments, full execution to his will. The madness of a destructive radicalism, of a licentious individualism has, indeed, already past. It was but a momentary reaction against the usurpations of mock kings and nobles. The wise of our day see clearly, that freedom is possible only in communion. Freedom, in the Ideal, is the concerted action of many men seeking the Right. We are approaching an era of a deeper loyalty, of a more chivalrous devotedness to the race, of a more hearty reverence for the truly great, than decayed and fading monarchies and oligarchies have ever witnessed. Give free room for men to prove what they are, to gain full development, to fling their gifts, be they mites or ingots, into the common treasury, and instantly it will appear, that we instinctively rejoice to honor the genuinely worthy. Our petty system of caste and rank rests on such straw and sand foundations; our actual palaces of distinctions are such card-house structures, that one strong breath of protest levels all to the dust. Hence, our body-guard of hypocritical etiquettes and make-believe courtesies. We are conscious that we are all sliding on a thin crust of civilities, fast melting away, and hold by each other lest we fall and break through. But we may as well look facts in the face. The day has dawned upon modern society, which will judge all men, not by pretences but by realities; and the spirit of Reform says this very hour, to every one, prince or prelate, gentle or simple, alike, “prove what you can do of good for your earth, for your kind, for your God, and take your place, accordingly, among your brothers. Let the strong give, let the weak receive; let all exchange their mutual wealth with mutual honors.” Social Reorganization, again we say, upon the principle of United Interests, is now the watchword of Humanity.


A social reorganization, that shall realize united interests, is the end which the Present aspires to reach, and no less a consummation will satisfy its hope. We begin to see the unity of human existence, of all existence. The earth in constant orbit bears all her children onward to a common destiny; the ground crust that upholds them floats on one molten sea; one ocean washes, one atmosphere bathes, one sun brightens and warms all lands; one blood beats in the pulses of mankind; one Divine Spirit, of whose influence these external unities are symbols, animates all souls; and by any and every act of disunion, the human race mutilates, dwarfs, paralyses itself. We are learning to recognize clearly, what all ages have by blind instinct felt, that man is one. Peace, equitable commerce, concerted industry in producing and distributing natural wealth and works of art, free interchange of intelligence, generous rivalry in obeying the law of love, are seen to be the only truly human relations amongst nations. Abundance, beauty, social incitements, elevating motives, honors, so shared as to enable every individual to become and to prove himself to be what his Maker purposed, and to bind all individuals in union by mutual gratitude and respect, are undeniably the only just conditions for each nation within itself. The confusions and strifes which divide the world, are as unnatural as useless. Mistakes have been made in translating into human speech, and printing for human use, the laws of the One Sovereign Good; and, once again, we of this generation are called to strike off a revised edition. Shall it be this time correct?

“The golden age,” said Saint Simon, truly, “lies not behind, but before us.” But to reach that new world, which, in purple glory, looms above the horizon, we need wisdom. Between us and those happy shores, mocking clouds hang over maelstroms. Rapturous expectations, rash experiments, will not guide us, without knowledge of landmarks and currents, to safe havens. To embody in individual and social life the ideal which the Present contemplates of brotherhoods glorifying the Father by deeds of worship, demands, in addition to enthusiasm, intelligence of the Infinite Being and of his will, of humanity and of man, of nature, of the law of growth which pervades creation, of the processes by which the past has unfolded into the present, and is ripening for the future. We need to hear the hour which the grand horologe of destiny is now striking, to see whereto the index of the great dial now points upon the earth; to comprehend the work to be done now and here; to conceive clearly, and adopt strongly the principles, means and ends, which Providence allots for the guidance of our age and nation. There are problems to be solved of theology and psychology, of social justice and personal ethics, of industry and property, of art and enjoyment. Men have abandoned the shelter of many old opinions, and the radicalism of the last age pulled them down. Thanks to our fathers who reared them; they were good homes in days past. But the damp had loosened the boards and rusted the fastenings, the floors creaked, the timbers settled; there was danger that the tempests and floods would bring them down upon the heads of sleepers. And now shall we lay foundations on the rock or on the sand; shall we build some Babel-tower of human caprice, or a Temple modelled by a heavenly architect? We need re-statements of established truths, which shall put them in harmony with new discoveries, and a re-arrangement of accredited facts, that shall show their relations with universal laws of order. In a word, this age is a constructive one, as the last was destructive; and in place of this rubbish, and ruin of doubt, we need the smooth hewn blocks, the squared and numbered timbers, the scaffolding and busy builders of science.

What lessons do the obstinate repetitions of mistakes which have abounded in past ages teach, of the indispensable uses of science. One questions almost, whether men’s stupidity or selfishness has been the greater; and each appears to be by turns the cause and effect of the other. Sometimes it seems as if the one purpose of all this long career of painful experience through which mankind have stumbled on, had been to make them relearn that word of truth, once luminous through their whole nature and condition, which sin has dimmed. There have been opportunities, invitations enough, but this nightmare of sophistry has benumbed man’s energies. Nature has pleaded with our race to aid the birth of her productions, to foster her infant energies, to train up her wild forces to beautiful perfection : the Spirit through the souls of genius and of the masses, has spoken with alternate hope and discontent, remorse and promise. But man, though conscious that the road was lost to the Father’s house, has seen no sun, no pole star to guide him back. In the thickets and thorny jungles of false creeds and customs, of false doctrines and institutions, he faints with famine far away from the orchards and gardens of his home. And failures upon failures, disappointment upon disappointment, do not teach us. Like travellers astray in the prairie, we retread our own track in delusive circles, till the narrow path becomes beneath our steps like a beaten highway. The mere repetition of falsehoods gives us confidence at last that they are truths. What fears, what superstitions, what mad delusions, what incredibly absurd caprices have settled in locust swarms upon man’s remaining good affections. What a prolonged enigma has life been to millions upon millions. To give room to only one more of the crowd of images which the contemplation of man’s sufferings, through ignorance, suggests to fancy, how truly may it be said that to the many, even here and now, earthly existence is like a burial alive in catacombs, covered with hieroglyphics. Perplexed with guessing whence they came and whither they should go, they seize the thread which some groping seeker has dropped, and hurry after the retiring tramp of human feet. How mournful is this seemingly inevitable persistance in transmitted errors.

Equally mournful are the convulsive efforts which men singly and united have often made to remould their usages, domestic and social. With generous aims and pure purposes, they have blundered into worse evils than they fled from, through mere want of science, of clear apprehension of facts and laws, of perception, of sagacity. What contrasts does the history of reform everywhere show between large plans and mean results, brave onset and disgraceful routs. Over the dead bodies of their fallen comrades have men scaled their way, even to actual success, small as it is. The cost of undertakings is not rightly estimated; and the wings of the marble palace dwindle down to the rough boards of a shanty. Sudden glimpses are substituted for clear comprehension; feverish visions for calm, patient, thorough study. Personal prejudices mingle with the elements of truth, and vitiate conclusions. Hence half statements, and all manner of extravagances among reformers. On one side, the man of sense thinks to construct a social machine which shall turn characters as in a lathe to any pattern, and grind out happiness to order; on the other, the spiritualist disowns or slights material facts, and invites his brethren to enter the groves and cities, which form and melt in the morning cloud of his hopes. Both fail. And onlookers and aftercomers have the chance, if they will use it, of learning from the extravagances of men who choose to follow their own torch-light theories, rather than walk in the noontide, with which omniscience, through all phenomena of nature, and all events, seeks to illuminate the intellect of man.

Is there need of illustration of these remarks, which are equally applicable to individuals and bodies of men. Julian and the Alexandrians were sincere, as they were untimely, in the hope to rebuild the shattered fanes and make green again the faded glories of old mythologies. They did not know the season that had come upon them in the long year of Providence. The hermits of Syria were as pure as they were extravagant in their mystical attempts to wean the soul from sensible joys, and only plunged their disciples in deeper indulgence by the oscillations needed to restore the balance. They would not know the worth of man’s intermediate position between the spiritual and material worlds. The Crusaders, wasting fortunes on gilded armour suits, which their own ebbing blood should tarnish, little dreamed of the subtle influences which were undermining the towers of feudal castles. They did not know, as their lineal descendants are not yet willing to know, that the time had come when the sword was to yield to the plough. The Anabaptists, in rash haste to recast and run human institutions in the narrow mould of a lawless freedom, formed not even a dim conception of the sublime harmony which is possible, and will one day be realized, of liberty with order. The Friends felt the great tide of spiritual life which was flooding Europe, but their prim sternness strangely caricatured the courteous, free, varied, joyful obedience which shall beautify men in the kingdom of God. The Girondists, the Republicans of France, were many of them impelled by generous and devoted humanity; but vain, self-confident, elate, indiscriminating, they overlooked the great law of continuance, by which the past organizes the present, and cut themselves off, green branches soon to wither, from the vine of faith whose sap supplied their life. And to come nearer home, our day and land are filled with men drunk with exhilirating gas of reform, who act and talk like somnambulists of philanthropy, rushing headlong in their dreamy career over swamps and pitfalls, as if experience had never cut a road, nor bridged a river, nor solved a single problem of human life.

Indeed, in further illustration of the need of science, it may be well to dwell a moment upon the singular perplexities of intellect which characterize our own generation, and especially our own people. Partly from the instinctive desire of democracies to diffuse information; partly from the movement in favor of popular education, which the social dangers of civilized states has hastened; partly from the number of fine spirits, who, sick with the struggles for livelihood of our conflicting interests, make literature a profession; partly from the intellectual curiosity which our free habits of intercourse stimulate; and more than all, from the divine inspiration and providence which now command the elevation of every class, the destruction of caste, and the frankest communion of man with man, have arisen our modes of popular lectures and cheap publications. The final effect of this process none can question. It is a general ploughing and harrowing and rooting out of the stumps of prejudice, and a preparing for seed time. But where are the sowers? In fact, such sowers as we have, are not welcome. Need particular cases be mentioned? Only three months since, the editor of the Democratic Review showed how far his honor surpassed his prudence, by declaring that he should continue to print Mr. Brownson’s articles, though they were unpopular. And why were those instructive papers on synthetic philosophy, the philosophy of history and government, unpopular? They demanded thought. They took men off the railroad of conventionalities, on which dozingly, though insecurely, they were spinning along, and sent them to survey a safer route. Yet the subscribers to the Democratic Review may surely be supposed to be as intelligent an audience as any periodical in this country can command. Again, consider that the Dial, opening unexplored mines of purest thought, brilliant with wit, rich with beauty, and pervaded by a tone of serene, cheerful, manly piety and wisdom as it is, has only a circulation of a few hundred — while week by week, novels by tens of thousands are sent like hampers and boxes of French wines, to make giddy our boys and girls, all over the land; and what a confession is the fact of our national need of a more scientific culture. The evil will, however, be transient. The very practical efficiency of our country, sanguine and enthusiastic as it is, and absorbing as it now does our finest intellects, is gradually training us up as a people, to accuracy and completeness. Our acquaintance with actual things, gives us a distaste for sophistries; and, indeed, it is the suspicion that metaphysics and philosophical discussions are a juggler’s trick with words, which partially explains, if it does not justify, the neglect of the highest class of writings yet produced among us. The zeal with which we have seized upon phrenology and mesmerism, show the general readiness to receive what has even the look of definite, substantial knowledge. In all fairness, too, it must be said, that many good books are now written, are now read, and more and more of them each year. Our superficiality is the accident of the past want; morbid appetites have been formed by eating cakes and candies, through lack of solid food; it needs time and healthier diet to restore the tone. Meanwhile, however, it is well that we should thoroughly learn and sincerely confess how crude our popular theories of life, society, law, are. Were it not for the Anglo-Saxon good sense in action, which so singularly contrasts itself with our speculative obtuseness, we should be at this moment, as indeed to far too great an extent we actually are, the prey of every political and theological quack. We are guilty of the absurdest inconsistencies in national action and social life; and falsehoods received in our opinions end in shameful hypocrisies in conduct. We need, if ever a nation on this earth did, science; intuition of great ideas, definite principles, reverent comprehension of the law of God imposed upon this people, earnest vision of the destiny opening before us, if we are faithful.

But, to continue still further this illustration of the present need of science, let it be stated, that the superficiality which disgraces the American mind, is not confined to us. Our thinking men need not blush in the presence of European compeers. Plainly a crisis has come in the philosophy of the whole civilized world. From the “victorious analysis” of a few years since, proudly boasting of modern methods of inquiry, men have passed to an idolatrous worship of the relics of tradition. The Encyclopedist, unriddling the mysteries of the universe, as readily as he cracked the nuts of his dessert, has given place to the Puseyite, kissing the feet of moss-grown statues in pious pilgrimage, and wearing the amulet of rusty creeds. The philosopher of a half century since was a kind of backwoods man, making clearings right and left, and burning forests for watchfires. But the meek students of to-day sift from libraries the available fragments of ofd learning, as on frosty mornings we may see the poor, screening from cinder heaps the scraps of coal. Since the days of the Greek sophists and the Gnostics, there has not been seen a greater confusion of thought than now prevails. It is a high carnival of speculative extravagance. And as from theatres, antiquaries’ sanctums, and old clothes shops, masqueraders borrow quaint disguises, so do the scholars of Europe, with unblushing plagiarism, wear the cast off theories of earlier days. Surely it cannot be long before the day will break upon our generation and reveal our sophistries. There is vanity among the scholars of our day; but there is more earnestness. This chaos of opinion is involuntary, and recognized as evil. Indeed, it has become a most solemn and momentous concern, this gaining of true science. There can be no peace assured, no steady progress possible, till modern societies find some creed. The vague dogmas of equality in France, rock throne and peerage, bourse and market, like an earthquake. The plausible agrarian notions of communism are undermining all distinctions of property in England. The half conceived truths, in relation to marriage, put serpents in the Eden of many homes. A philosophy brings with it a policy, an ethics, a criticism, a sphere of manners, modes of art and industry. Given Spinoza’s One Being of thought and extension, as a fundamental opinion in individuals or states, and not all other influences combined can prevent its development into a weakened sense of obligation, and a general tendency to swallow up persons in the mass. Given as the corner-stone of private character or communal institutions, Hobbes’ doctrine of necessity, and the inevitable result is expediency as the rule of right, and despotism as the government. And so with all systems. As in the great revolutions of the earth, the more central rocks have broken through and lifted as they rose the incumbent strata, so a profound thought, uprising in the mind of a man or a people, changes the relative position of all customs and usages. Such a thought is now working upward. A mightier revolution than mankind has ever seen, is preparing in the bosom of this age. From the very centre of humanity, the granite of unity is swelling up, and the end may be, ought to be, (but will it be?) a union of virtuous, intelligent, happy brotherhoods, the earth over. The medium needed, in order that this great change may be peaceful, is enlightened reason; the truly earnest thinkers of our day admit this. Jouffroy, in his admirable chapter on the scepticism of the age, sadly forbodes our dangers from the want of a Credo. M. Comte toils, with herculean powers, for the establishment of positive knowledge. Fourier, with a Frenchman’s confidence, throws down scornfully his piles of manuscript, and says, there, you blind fools, there is the science of universal unity that you are all asking for. Swedenborg, with more of the Teutonic reverence, opens his revelations, depth beyond depth, of angelic wisdom. And the good doctors of mother church, meanwhile, Roman and English, look on placidly, and mildly say, “Oh, truant boys ! have you not wandered long enough through the deserts of doubt. Come home. We can solve all your problems, answer all your questions. We overlook, from our high Gothic steeple, the whole world.” Differ they may, on other points, but all agree that science we do absolutely need. How can it be gained? Doubtless Catholicism and Eclecticism and Rationalism conspire to clear away the fog. The profound studies upon the history of philosophy, and the philosophy of history, of the German and French authors, give aid in enabling us to see our present position, and the direction in which our inquiries may be turned, with best hope of success. Many brilliant generalizations have been enunciated. Cousin’s definition of the present period, as that of the “relation between the infinite and finite,” is full of suggestion. The quite common statement, that our age is one of ” reconciliation between supernaturalism and naturalism,” is the same profound thought differently regarded. But of all comprehensive portraitures of this intellectual era, perhaps none has attracted more attention than that of M. Comte, though he speaks more with the materializing dogmatic tone of the sceptic, than with the spirit at once exact and expansive, reverent and poetic, of the true believer, which the true knower always must be.

“Every branch of knowledge passes successively through three stages: 1st, the supernatural, or fictitious; 2nd, the metaphysical, or abstract; 3rd, the positive, or scientific. The first of these is the necessary point of departure taken by human intelligence; the second is merely a stage of transition from the supernatural to the scientific; and the third is the fixed and definite condition in which all knowledge remains. In the supernatural stage the mind seeks the knowledge of causes—it seeks to know the essences of things and the causes of their operations. It regards, therefore, all effects as the productions of supernatural agents, whose intervention is the cause of all the apparent anomalies and irregularities. Nature is animated by supernatural beings. Every unusual phenomenon is a sign of the displeasure or favor of some being who is adored and propitiated as a god. The lowest condition of this stage is Fetichism; the highest condition is when one being is substituted for many, as the cause of all phenomena.

“In the metaphysical stage, which is in truth only a logical modification Of the former, but which is important as a transitional stage, the supernatural agents give place to abstract forces (personified abstractions), supposed to inhere in the various substances, and capable themselves of engendering phenomena. The highest condition of this stage is when all these various forces are brought under one general force, as Nature. “In the positive stage, the mind, convinced of the futility of all inquiry into causes and essences, applies itself to the observation and classification of the laws which regulate effects; that is to say, the invariable relations of succession and similitude which all things bear to each other. The highest condition of this stage would be, to be able to represent all phenomena but as the various particulars of one general law or fact, such as gravitation.”

In closing these various illustrations of the present need and call for intellectual illumination, shall the attempt be made, to name this science, which the age is seeking with prophetic hope? It is the science of Unity, of Universal Analogy. Notwithstanding diversities of principles, variety of methods, confusion of terms, differences of formulas, this actually is the common aim of all thinking men. More and more distinct grows the conviction, that there is but one science, as there is but one truth. We can know nothing aright, no law, no fact, till we gain insight of the central principle, which authorizes all laws, necessitates all facts. There is but one truth. It is the Truth of Love made manifest in Beauty. There is but one science. It is the Science of God, of the Good, of the Essential Reality, revealed Ideally in hosts of spirits, revealed Actually in the series of creations which compose the universe. To man, who occupies, as a spirit, the intermediate position between God and nature, this one science divides itself into three, which may respectively be called the Divine, the Spiritual, the Natural. Neither of them is intelligible without the other two; but the conception of each implies that of the others; and reciprocally they explain one another by correspondence. Distant yet may be the hour when this science shall appear above our horizon; but all signs brighten; a rosy flush is mingling through the gray dawn. More and more are men learning the mystery of humanity, and of nature, their several oneness, their mutual relations, their intimate union with God. More and more do even the trifling perceive that all characters and thoughts and deeds, all worships, literatures, arts, all human goodness, wisdom, power, are luminous with a translucent ideal, which justifies itself, and judges all else by eternal, absolute, and perfect tests. More and more do even the sensual apprehend that every form, sound, movement, of the natural world, all species and genera of creatures, all organizations, the grand organization of the universe, image the Eternal Being, as the sparkles on a rippling sea reflect the sun. Man’s love is a fountain welling from a profound and boundless ocean of goodness; his thought is the echo of an all-harmonious word of wisdom; his energy is stirred by a motive force of self-existent life, which prompts forever to beautiful production. Wonderful relationships unite all persons, things, events; each mirrors all others, completes, fulfils them. There is no repetition, no sameness, no Waste, no disorder; but in endless variety and ever progressive development do all spirits, all existences, conspire to manifest in the finite the infinite, in multiplicity the one. When, at length, this sublime conception, now laboring in men’s minds, shall be born, and this Science of Unity, of Universal Analogy, shall utter itself in articulate words, then will there be peace, of man with nature, of man with man, of both with God. As darkness is dispersed by the first radiant bead of light that overhangs the edge of the eclipse, so will doubt and discord fly before the effulgence of truth. Pantheists, theists, atheists, will forget their partial denials in responsive affirmation of a faith which passes into vision. Spiritualists, moralists, materialists, will confess their mutual errors with grateful respect for each other’s wise discernment of portions of the grand reality. Theocrats, aristocrats, democrats, will smile at bygone bigotry, and walk hand in hand in obedience to the one law of right. Poet, sage, and working man will labor together with joyful reverence, to fulfil the destinies of their race. Nature, restored to harmony, and pliant under man’s congenial toil, will image in brightening beauty the blessed societies of human brotherhood, the perfections of the Universal Father; and in the temple of this new heaven and earth, God will dwell with his children in the glory of his constant light.


The science of unity is the means by which the Present may fulfil the end it seeks of a Social Reorganization, where nations and men co-work to glorify the earth with industry and art, and worship the Father by imitation of his creative bounty. It is the conception of Unity, that gives us the test and standard by which we condemn prevailing discords. This is the point of view from which, as from a mountain top through parting clouds, we look down upon the promised land of order, justice, plenty, peace, that spreads beneath us, with plains, and woods, and lakes and streams, and countless salutations of welcome. Let us but learn the Truth, and Beauty will reflect upon us the brightness of Love. The subtle analogies, which, throughout the universe, half hide, half tell their secret—the forever recurring correspondencies, which through all forms, animate and inanimate, repeat in fluent hieroglyphics the history of mankind,—the profound meanings of nature and humanity, which flash upon our mind and vanish like sunbeams through the storm,—the majestic visions, which in our moods of highest thought pass before us of the Infinite imaged in the finite,—all teach at once our actual ignorance and our capacity of true knowledge. Not forever shall this impassable abyss appear to sunder the worlds of spirit and of matter; not forever shall we be startled by the contrast between the seemingly dead, inert, unfeeling machinery of nature,—now grinding humanity to destruction, now peacefully wafting them to success,—and man’s passionate sensitiveness and reasonable will. The day will dawn, when the Universe shall show itself warmly alive to us, when Man shall comprehend his office here of mediator, and know as well as believe in his privilege of immortal growth. Our restless discontent with actual imperfection and confusion, our yearning for maturity and progress, spring from the half-formed conception of Unity pervading creation, which answers to and embodies the designs of the Eternal One. This thought is the pure snow upon the Alpine peaks, whence flow the freshets of Reform.

But whence this thought of Unity? It is an intuition more or less full and bright of the Infinite Ideal. Through every spirit, through humanity, through all modes of character, through the series of animated and vegetative existence, through chemical affinities and mineral forms, through the grand attractions which compose the universe, through the universe as a whole, shine forth in countless numbers, in endless variety, in harmonious relations, mutually dependent, fulfilling one another, the Divine Ideas. In events and changes intermingling and blending, in the flux and reflux, the currents and tides of creation, in ever new births and deaths, in successive generations, each preparing room for its successor, in the universal growth, are manifest the Acts of Supreme Power, everlastingly perfecting beauty, illimitably diffusing joy. The Past, the Present, are Revelations. We live amidst, we form a part of Revelation. The hour and moment whose airs we breathe, whose suns warm and enlighten, whose mighty forces lift us on their billows, declare the Being of Beings. The tendencies which stir and quicken material movements, the hopes and longings which impel conscious spirits, are prophecies of future fulfilments of the Highest Good. The thought of Unity flows into us from all the affections of good which God inspires. The One Life which animates the universe is Love.

In every age, in every individual is renewed the awful and glad experience, that man communes with the Good, that his well being is in this communion, in the reception, the diffusion, the assimilation of Goodness. We stand amidst the glories of the external world, where harmonies of forms and hues, of sounds and perfumes, pass over our thrilling nerves, and call out varied emotions of triumph and sorrow, as the sweeping wind draws music from harp-strings. Nature is vocal to us with the words of a spirit of rectitude and grace, of sweetness and mercy, commanding us not to be abandoned to voluptuous employment, but to share our happiness, and by courage and wisdom, by patience and hope to cheer our brethren, and mould society to finer beauty than material forms can embody. From behind and through nature a smile of benignity prompts us to kindness. The earth lies disconsolate until upon her breast she bears a worthy race of men, strong and skillful to multiply her wealth, and just to use it for one another’s blessing. She blooms and ripens and fades in vain, until her fruitfulness is made to minister to the reciprocated affections of mankind; her countless tribes of animals enact their pantomime in vain until hearts capable of consciousness and choice respond in articulate words to the general hymn of grateful sympathy. Man fulfils his function, only in so far as interpreting the wishes of divine benevolence, he appeals to the power of disinterestedness in his fellows, and gives himself up to the universal good.

Man lives by union with his kind. Isolation is annihilation. He is the truest man, who mingles most heartily with his brethren. He is the greatest man, who most fully takes up into his character, assimilates, communicates in look, speech, deed, the aspiration of his age and nation, who executes their efforts, attains their ends. Man’s peculiar science is conscience, a fellow knowledge, a fellow feeling, a conspiring, co-working, suffering, enjoying with and for his race. From the tenderness of the mother in weary rounds of petty offices, wasting her fresh beauty, and sacrificing youthful tastes in fond fore-shadowings of her children’s virtue and honor, to the martyr anticipating the hope his time, and dying by neglect or outrage, embalming in tears and blood his faith in fuller justice, tice, and bequeathing it to an ungrateful people as a legacy, through all relations, all grades of action, is manliness proportioned to the quality and degree of devoted love. And amidst all confusions of men’s creeds and prejudices, all superstitions and bigotries, is the dignity recognised of this self abandonment to the commanding charm of goodness. Goodness is the heart, the life blood, the nervous fluid of humanity.

That which we call goodness, call love, is endlessly manifold in the forms it wears, the ends it seeks, its modes of manifestation. But one element always characterises it. It is the tendency to subordinate the parts to the whole, and at the same time to make the whole do exact justice to the several parts in their appropriate spheres. Duty, in the last analysis, appears to be the principle of Order, of the Order of Love. The very essence of our spiritual being is this law of right. By an instinct, which is the germ of all affection and will, we feel that our true good is one with all good, that in usefulness we find our benefit, in obedience our freedom, in co-operation our pleasure. A grand consciousness possesses us, that we are members of one inconceivably vast organization, whose life beats in our pulses, thrills in our nerves, and yet to whose healthful symmetry and growth our concerted action is vitally necessary. Most wonderful and sublime is this command of self-sacrifice with its accompanying promise of self-perfection, which constrains and invites us to love, and so be loved again, and in this blending of ourselves with all to grow and be immortal. No denial is possible to the justice of this claim upon all creatures of Him, whose bliss is in the blessedness of countless spirits, co-laboring to multiply joy in the increase of beauty. To make self the centre, to be wanting in love, to use others for our particular ends, to oppose for private gains the general progress, is to dethrone Good, to break the order of heaven, to check the circulations of creation. Selfishness is Satan, the adversary, the evil one, the Father of lies. To permit its entrance is to become a spirit of darkness, a child of hell. It is to die, and in dying to spread destruction.

The obedient recognition of this Order of Love is Religion. The acknowledgment of its sovereign obligation under lies all mythologies. The assurance of the indomitable power of good gives birth to the Vishnou and Siva of the Hindoo, the Ormuzd and Ahriman of the Persian, the contests of Olympus and the Titans, the battles of Michael and the Dragon, the fables and dreams of air and earth peopled with warring hosts of angels and demons. From everlasting to everlasting peace triumphs over confusion, creation spreads its smiling continents upon the weltering chaos, beauty covers the wilderness with springing woods and trailing vines. This confidence in the ever-present providence of good is the master tone of poetry, the key note of music, the charm of art. A , reverence for its authority is the sanction of all laws and ethics, of all policies and manners. Love is the corner and cap stone of nations, the hearth and the roof tree of home. It is the ring of betrothal, the clasp of friendship, the seal of credit, the crown of courtesy. He who has this spirit of duty is born of God. The willing co-operation with all existences, with all intelligences is the Liberty of the Sons of God. And from Adam, through all his generations, has brightened this hope, like a solar system evolving from a nebula of human destiny fulfilled in the Oneness of Man with God.

But why has this At-one-ment been a hope and not a fact? Whence this actual alienation from goodness? The surprise is ever new, that a free intelligence, can be at variance with the Holy One. The creature of the All Good a devil, of the All Wise a ruin, of the All Mighty a rebel! The necessity of individualizing finite spirits as the very condition to make love between them and God, between them and their fellows possible, of separating them in order that there may be union, of multiplicity of passions and affections as the means of producing sympathy, is the only solution we can now conceive of this problem of selfishness. Evil is the Sphinx. Wrong is the grand enigma. And Philosophy has always shrunk before the mysterious consciousness of opposition to him who is the attractive centre, the radiant orb of good. But in vain has Sophistry denied the existence of evil, and called it a delusive appearance, pitied remorse as insanity, chided the dread of retribution as a want of logic, sought to abash conscience by haughty presumption, pronounced the contrast of virtue with vice, love and hate the needed equipoise of positive and negative forces, and heard a heightened harmony in the music of the spheres from the mingling discords of man’s lawlessness. The ghastly wounds, the famished forms, the brutal passions, the vagrant wills of a race self-exiled from their native paradise cannot be disguised, nor forgotten. Not unmeaning have been the holocausts of human victims, the scars of self-tormentors, the wasting vigils of penitence, the fakeer’s flinty bed, the hermit’s bloody scourge, the monk’s confessional. Not mad have been the prophets, with faces wan and thin from fasts, and voices hoarse with grief, in robes of sackcloth warning guilty nations. Not deceitful have been the historians pictured shows of the tremendous penalties of past injustice. Natures desolations blasting with desert sands and rank jungles once populous and cultivated realms, beasts of prey and loathsome reptiles lurking and swarming in the ruined piles of palaces and cities, echo man’s wail of confession over the suicide of sin. The Spirit in the soul cries, with a voice sorrowful and stern, which no mad mirth can drown, no indifference can hush, “There is no peace, saith the Good, to the wicked.” We fail of well being — squalidness, inefficiency, disappointments deform our social and private doings, — because we are ignorant of true order; and we are thus ignorant because we are averse to goodness. Only Love can truly know Love. Only the single eye can see the light. Man, in just the degree that he is selfish, stands here a stranger, blind, helpless, with all the forces of creation, all the passions of the Spiritual World arrayed against him. And he must yield to Good in willing service, or he must cease to be.

The history of the Past is summed up in Religion. Truly the thoughts and efforts of sages and saints, prophets and poets, heroes and honest workers the earth over, have been turned to this one end of Reconciliation, Re-union, the At-One-Ment of God and Man and Nature. The consciousness of a fatal severance from the Soul of all Good — the aspiration to be quickened again with the life which he inspires — the effort faithfully to do his present will in patient anticipation of peace and joy, re-appear in all ages and nations. We do not estimate Christianity aright, nor do justice to providence and Mankind, when we look upon this form of religion as something isolated and exceptional. The conviction that goodness is a heavenly birth, a communion with deity, a germ of immortal growth, so purely declared by Jesus, has found more or less clear expression in every time. The doctrine of the God-Man, which has been the heart of the Christian Church, took the shape it now wears from the piety of the whole East. Poetry and history are crowded with sublime fables of Gods appearing among men, with human looks, and words and deeds glorified by indwelling divinity. The great reality, covered by the faith, that the Son of Man was one with the Infinite Father, in whatever degree justified by the lofty character and unparrelled claims of the Prophet of Nazareth, was the fulfilment of the longings of all holy souls. And just so far as it was true of him, that he had abandoned self, and identified bis existence with his brethren, and given his energies up to universal well being, and become a medium for the influx of love, was he a type of Humanity transfigured by the glory of God. God can be incarnate upon earth only in a Race of Men, each perfect in his degree and sphere, conspiring to receive and diffuse, in endless variety, goodness and wisdom and beauty. This great hope of Man, filled with the fulness of God, shall in time be actualized. It is the rising sun which shadows upon the morning clouds that form of giant symmetry. And from the mountain top the heavenly presence shall descend at noontide to bless the waiting earth.

This acknowledgment of the Inspiration of Goodness as a universal experience of mankind, which connects Christianity intimately with the aspirings of all ages, shows us the position which this form of religion actually occupies in the education of the race. The life of Jesus has been a refreshment, a renewal, an infinite encouragement. As when an invalid inhales pure air he rises from his langour with elastic health, so has Man breathed in through the devotedness of the Son of Man a renovating influence. The heart of Humanity is warmer, its circulations fuller and quicker, new hope and vigor pour through its veins. The facts are plain, that a godliness, a thirst (or perfection, a longing for ideal excellence, a capacity of pure affection, a refined sensibility, a tenderness of conscience, a power of disinterested heroism, a gentleness and loveliness characterise the nations of Christendom, which cannot find their peers among even the saintly few of the ancient world. The soul of this great man has melted into and mingled with the tides of feeling of the generations which have succeeded him, sweetening the bitter sea of selfishness. The spiritual world seems nearer, angels of holy thoughts ascending and descending to unite man with the invisible and the eternal. The Lord comes down more frequently to walk again with Adam in the garden. It is no exaggeration, from the effect of nearness and familiarity, which makes these modern times appear to us more filled with moral life. A great step has been taken in human progress. As when in solemn hours a man receives a new and better thought, and consecrates himself to greater faithfulness, so mankind through Jesus have pledged themselves anew to duty. We shall go back, shall falter no more. A high view of justice is opened, high visions of prosperity beckon us onward. Especially does the providential timeliness of Christianity impress us, when we consider the native qualities of the savage races fore-destined to receive it. Their independence, haughty courage, chivalrous honor, practical efficiency, rich germs as they were of the free institutions which already have appeared and are yet more to appear in Christendom, needed the humanising power of the gospel of peace to make them fruitful. Beautiful has been this marriage of the East and West, of virgin charity with manly vigor. And a late posterity alone can fitly tell the virtues and glorious deeds of their progeny. Christendom is but entering its prime. It overflows with life. From a deep conviction that kindness and usefulness, the multiplication and dissemination of good is true worship, as its heart, gush forth exhaustless reforms through all the arteries of national and individual enterprise. Industry, Art, Science, Literature, Legislation stimulate each other in emulous rivalry to secure the present development of human power, the fullest possession of means of culture and joy. Transmitted evils do not daunt its courage; partial failures do not chill its hope. It diffuses itself. Commerce with fine filaments of confidence is forming as by vital processes a new organization of humanity; and scattered colonies, as the nervous ganglions of this growing body, radiate energy and movement. The faith, the trust, the love each day swelling stronger throughout Christendom, are an assurance of a re-united race, made one with God and Nature.

With the reverent and joyful feeling, that Man is not upon this earth alone left in his ignorance and feebleness, but that the Infinite Good, the Living God, is with him, in him; — that this present age is not cut off from the past, but that the aspiration of ages is even now flowing like sap from the root to the uttermost twig of existing society, and quickening even in us and through us the fruits and seeds of future triumphs; and that we have a part of the common reconciling and atoning work allotted to us, let us look upon Religion as it is. Silver-haired Tradition shall lay his trembling hands in benediction on our heads; young Hope shall crown us with garlands of spring flowers; and then with sober wisdom let us gird ourselves for toil.

And first of Tradition. How significant is the awakening of zeal, which shows itself in the two great branches of the Catholic church, the Roman and the Anglican, — significant as a sign of the revival of holiness throughout Christendom. And how eloquent are the expressions of this faith by such men as Görres and Schlegel, Newman and Pusey. Never in any time have more beautiful expositions of the meaning of a Church been given, never more pathetic appeals to the longing of the heart for something worthy of devotedness. How sublime is this thought of a Spiritual Organization, living from age to age through wide spread nations, with a visible manifestation on the earth in outward forms as its body, and a moral union with the hosts of the just, orderly related in the eternal world, as its mind, and the Living God as its soul. How touching to the best feeling is the love, with which this mighty Mother takes to its nursing care each infant generation, and by holy rites assimilates the young as they mature into itself, and transmits a purifying influence by constant inspiration through all occupations and interests. The Church, so represented, stands in the position of a perpetual Mediator, forever bringing up her children to the Lord, that he may take them in his arms and bless them. And the effects which have through eighteen centuries been wrought by this guardianship, prove how wisely adapted such ministration is to the wants of man. Truly the Church has been a quickening centre of modern civilization, a fountain of law and art, of manners and policy. It would not be easy to estimate how much of our actual freedom and humanity, of our cultivation and prosperity, we owe to her foresight and just acknowledgment of rights and duties. It is easy to ascribe to the cunning and love of power of priests the wonderful sovereignty which this spiritual dictator has exerted; but it is proof of surprising superficiliaty, that these critics do not recognise, that only sincere enthusiasm and truth, however adulterated by errors, can give such a hold upon human will. The Christian Church has been unquestionably the most dignified institution which the earth has seen. The Priesthood through all limes and people has exerted an astonishing sway; and the universality of the fact is evidence of the necessity of such spiritual organizations as the conscience of nations. All government is, by the divine authority which originates and preserves it, a Theocracy. But no hierarchy has ever existed which, in the depth and extent of its influence, can be compared with the Catholic Church. Beautiful have been its abbeys in lonely solitudes, clearing the forests, smoothing the mountains, nurseries of agricultural skill amidst the desolating wars of barbarous ages, sanctuaries for the suffering. Beautiful its learned cloisters, with students’ lamps shining late in the dark night as a beacon to wandering pilgrims, to merchants with loaded trains, to homeless exiles, their silent bands of high browed, palid scholars, watching the form of Science in the tomb of ignorance, where she lay entranced. Beautiful its peaceful armies of charity, subduing evil with works of love in the crowded allies and dens of cities, amid the pestilences of disease and the fouler pestilence of crime, and carrying the sign of sacrifice through nations more barren of virtues than the deserts which harbored them. But it is vain to deny that this mighty Banian tree, which has spread its boughs and taken root and spread again, is struck with blight. In this new spring time it is but putting forth upon its youngest boughs a verdure that will exhaust its remaining strength.

Few movements in the past have seemed so pathetic for their earnest hopefulness, yet certain disappointment, as these attempts which Germany and England have made within our day to revive the forms of the ancient church. With respect to the men engaged in this effort, impartial onlookers see, that the Spirit of the Age,—which a late writer wittily yet blasphemously called the Prince of Darkness, but which all must sometime learn through experience is the Spirit of God moving on the face of the waters, in ever new creation,—opposes its forces to the renovation of these decaying institutions. In vain do devotees seek to complete old structures, and study the architecture, rubrics, costumes and attitudes of earlier days. Liturgies printed in red letter or blue, prayer books however illuminated, utter the voice of buried ages only. They give no expression to the more hopeful humanity now pleading in men’s hearts, to the voice of the spirit making intercession with groanings which cannot be uttered, for a reconciliation of all men into one. The mighty pile which is now being built for the Bishopric of New York,—mighty to our eyes, though it could be stowed away unseen in the wing of some Gothic Cathedral reared when believing nations lent their contributions, and successive generations labored with one heart to fulfil the design—would be far more eloquent in beauty if less an unfinished ruin. The reality it is meant to symbolise no longer exists in this capital of commerce, in this land of free industry. There was a time when a mighty tower swelling up from among the smoke and narrow streets and crowded dwellings of cities, with its chime of silvery bells clear sounding over all their confused voices, was a type of a priesthood elevated in wisdom above the people, set aside from the common interests of the world. But the priesthood of to-day are men of the people, engaged heart and hand in actual interests. The Houses of God, which would symbolise the conscience of this age, cannot yet be built. They would not stand in silent loneliness casting the chill of their shadows upon common joys, frowning with closed doors against the cares and temptations of week-day multitudes, opening their dim aisles for a worship alien from our near experience, their spires pointing upward to lead men’s thoughts away from earth, their every rite reminding us that only in eternity can outcast man find rest, their solemn gloom shrouding our necessary labors and kindly pleasures as with a sepulchre. Rather would their wide circling walls find room for significant images of humble duties, spreading the sanction of approval over industry and recreation, over refinement and culture and social endearments,—bright lights, fresh flowers, music full of aspiration, and forms where old and middle aged and young, scholars and artisans, rich and poor, join hands in token of cooperation, announcing that our little globe is now a home for the Good.

The Church has asserted one great truth, that a Divine Life it the source of all good for the Human Race, and that such a life does actually animate the existing nations of Christendom. For this thanks to Tradition. But the Church has committed two great errors, or rather given most imperfect expression to two other truths. It has been Ascetic and has not acknowledged the beauty of man’s existence in the material world; it has been Exclusive, and given a most inadequate recognition to the fact of universal inspiration. It has slighted always, sometimes utterly denied Nature and Humanity, and pronounced its anathema upon both as given up to Evil. Hence the absolute necessity for past and present protests against the Church, for past and present changes, which shall be more than protests, not negative but positive, true Re-Formations.

Asceticism ends in a revolt of the natural affections to regain their rights, and hence hypocrisy alternating with excess. Exclusive claims to inspiration end in the assertion of the worth of the individual conscience, and hence bigotry alternating with scepticism. These two thoughts sum up the history of Protestantism, so far as it has been a denial of the Church. But more and more as the fogs clear away from the stormy era of past controversies, do we see that Enthusiasm, not Doubt, has been the life of the Sects. A conviction of individual inspiration has pervaded all these heretics, who one after another have risen to speak the word which lay like a burden on their hearts, in the fondly exaggerated hope that this word fitly uttered would be the dawn. Luther’s Justification by faith, Calvin’s Doctrine of Grace, the Quaker’s Inner Light, the Baptist’s Regeneration, the Methodist’s Perseverance of Saints, the Morality of the Unitarian, the Holiness of the Perfectionists, all in different modes teach this one central truth that Goodness is the life of God in the Soul. The Sects who have relied most upon the Scriptures, have still left their interpretation to the Spirit speaking through these inspired writings to the individual conscience, or through the individual conscience casting illumination upon the written page. The reawakening to this sublime fact of the intimate relation between each created spirit and the Infinite Father was as inevitable as it has been momentous in importance. In one sense every human being must form his own sect. He may not devolve the trust of judgment which is reposed in him. The tree breathes through its thousand leaves. Tradition in declaring the Inspiration of the Jewish and Christian Church had merged in this doctrine that of the Inspiration of their separate members. And it was God himself, by the still small voice of conscience, who reasserted the presence of his majesty to every soul. The Sects are justified. According to their time and power they have done well. We need a torch in every hand in this grand marching procession of humanity so long as it is night. The day will break, and then these flickering fires will pale.

Equally necessary was it, that the Rationalist should trust partly to instinctive sympathy with all mankind, partly to the half blind logic of the understanding, and maintain that Judaism and Christianity have been only brighter centres of a revelation spread over all eras and lands. Through the most abject Fetichism and most savage customs, through the rudest forms of law, and even inhuman usages, may be seen working the one great life of love, leading men’s hearts to adoration, to clanship, to some recognition, bright or faint, of a common relationship with the Infinite, a common destiny of Progress. Scepticism has been forced by bigotry into a false attitude; its sneer of defiance, against the prejudices and assumptions, the absurdities and superstitions of past ages, ought to have been a smile of gladness, at the prospect of generation after generation passing through a discipline which Providence ordained. In our day, indeed, scoffs at man’s credulity have given place to tolerant interpretation of by-gone errors. And the change is proof of heightened wisdom. Doubtless a truly pious age will see, as we do not, that God has never been without witnesses of himself amidst the degradations of man’s scattered tribes. Human history will at least appear to us as a whole. The great law of its development will be comprehended.

The same tendency which thus led the Rationalist and Eclectic to an oftentimes indiscriminate approval of all phases of human opinion, has led the Transcendentalist to a liberal estimate of virtue, which repeats the words of Peter’s vision, “Why callest thou any thing that God has made common or unclean.” Every instinct of man, says the Transcendentalist, is holy. Evil is only in disproportion. Give full and harmonious development to every power. Accept the life which from the unseen and eternal flows by with its river of joy. Dream not of the past, fear not for the future. Live now with all thy energies. When the text is so true should we be captious, because enthusiasm may lead to efforts which prematurely exhaust the spirits—and fastidiousness grown effeminate may sometimes unfit for toil the worshipper of ideal beauty—or because an acknowledgment of all things as good may reverse the estimates of popular ethics, consecrating what the world slights, spurning what is thought commendable—or spirituality come by the way of freedom to the same asceticism, which the Church commanded as penance. The longings after perfection which have reappeared in so many forms in this generation are the wind flowers of a coming spring.

Surprising, indeed, on whatever side we look, is the revival of the individual consciousness of a living relationship with the All-Good. Our literature is every day more deeply tinged with the sense of the mysterious power which animates existence, and governs all events. Atheism is a forgotten language. Frivolous tales even, fashionable novels, light essays, are filled with a tone of thought which shows how pervading is the conviction of spiritual realities. The Poetry of the day has no more striking characteristic than a Mysticism which, though dreamy, indicates awe of the unseen presence who sanctifies all things. The faith is latent in many hearts, even where unexpressed, that this age, as all others have been, is an age of prophecy. And what is most remarkable as a sign of the direction which piety is now taking, is the simplicity, homeliness even of the expressions used to convey a sense of the experience that Divine Life infuses wisdom and earnestness and peace, inward control, outward efficiency;—that Providence opens and guards the way for willing agents, making opportunities, giving permission and encouragement, allotting duty and joy to each hour. There is a simultaneous putting aside of cant. The words of the past seem vessels too tarnished wherewith to dip from the bubbling spring. There is less of religious phraseology, more employment of common words, and familiar associations for holy uses. The prim garbs of earlier forms of worship seem too straight, we aspire for a freer attitude of prayer and praise. The charm of ordaining hands laid upon the minister in consecration, looks superfluous, even officious. The Good are recognised as Priests of the order of Melchisedek, and the bands of the Levites have lost significance in the advent of these times of refreshing from on high. There is less heed of sacred days and seasons in the desire for a constant sacrifice of worthy deeds. Character, life are the acceptable offerings. Doubtless there is accompanying this movement much rude rejection of venerable usages. The feelings are shocked, the taste offended by inflated words, which savor of conceit rather than of conscience. But beneath these superficial extravagances is in-flowing a tide of Righteousness. These follies are but the crest of the breaking waves, the spray of the billows against the rocks. There is actually present in our generation the thought of Manhood perfected by an intimate, childlike intercourse with the Divine Friend, which is as confident as humble. Hence the demand for a purity, that shall make the whole man, body, mind, and heart, a fit temple for the Holy Spirit. Hence the plans for a strict conformity to the Creator’s will made known in natural laws, which seek to remodel our habits of labor and rest, of bed and board, of study, relaxation, social intercourse and retirement. The desire truly is to give up lust and vanity, self-confidence and sloth, to feel habitually that affection and thought and power are ever fresh gifts from heaven, to break out of restraining fears into glad obedience, and so become the willing instruments of the ever living Father. Thanks to this party of Hope. It is a mighty truth, which the Spiritualists of our day are teaching,—this need to re-form the individual as a condition of all reform. Each soul must be inspired perennially, a fountain of living water. True it is, that when every man is at one with the Good, then will they all be at one with each other. [1] And so Protestantism, carried to its ultimate, brings us to the conception again of the Church of the elect of God, spread over all the earth, a Church truly One, Holy and Universal, The Communion of the Children of God.

But how will these hopeful enthusiasts become children of God? No solitary soul can ever be truly one with the Father. It needed the inspiration of ages, it needed the prophetic hope and prayer of a whole people to form the soul of Jesus for the influx of the fulness of the spirit. Our life is in and through and from our brethren. So long as they are bowed down, and sinful, and selfish, will their disease infect us. Wretchedness, crime, breed moral miasm. We must remove their misery and strife. The fine fibres of sympathy transmit sickness as well as health, hate as well as love. No man can cut himself off from his race. No one man will ever be a true Man, a good Man, till Humanity is true and good. Verily it may be said, God speaks as much to us through our fellows, as through the depths of our own spirits. Ay! sometimes sweeter words of prophecy, deeper breathings of airs from heaven, tones of more celestial harmony come to us in communion with friends, in communion even with the fallen and ruined, than visit us alone. Wonderful is this subtle magnetism of human affection. Where two spirits, where many spirits love, instantly God is present. And in many a home circle, in many a congenial band, in holy interviews, is the miracle of Pentecost renewed, day by day, with a crown of light on every brow. Thus the very desire of Holiness brings us back to Social Reform as the means to that end. A good man lifts us as on angels wings to the mountain elevation where he breathes empyrean airs. Hosts of good men surrounding us would keep us always elevated. No man ever did, no man ever can stand alone. To be a Saint I must live with Saints. Our society is our atmosphere. Again, when a soul is made at one with him who is Love, instantly it must itself love. And in order that we may grow and receive such visitations of the spirit as we are already fit for, it is necessary that we put our thoughts of goodness into deeds. The soul breathes through its acts—as the plant does through its leaves. So on this side also are we led to social reform once again. I must love men with such affection as I have, in order that the vessels of the spirit may expand for fuller reception of the divine influence. And in the degree of our perfection will be the degree of benignity, of overflowing kindness. There is sometimes a selfish luxury of piety, an excitement of the imagination rather than of the heart, of the intellect rather than of the conscience. But true Piety is devotedness to Love. Spiritualism, then, if consistent with its law, ends in self-consecration to the Race, in communion with God through Humanity. Thus the Party of Hope have led us to the same result with the Party of Tradition. We must put away Asceticism, we must put away Exclusiveness. We must perfect man’s outward relations and condition; we must unite men’s interests and energies. The Religion of the Present calls us to work for Universal Restoration, Universal Reconciliation, the At-One-Ment of God and Man and Nature. And this, as in the next number of the Present, there will be an attempt to show, is the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth .


[1] See the admirable and eloquent tract in the last number of The Present, called The Third Dispensation; which, from both thought and style, must be ascribed to Charles Lane.

About Shawn P. Wilbur 2703 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.