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Of the three discourses in this volume, the second was originally given as the Rede Lecture at Cambridge, was recast for delivery in America, and is reprinted here as so recast. The first discourse, that on ‘Numbers,’ was originally given in New York. It was afterwards published in the Nineteenth Century, and I have to thank Mr. Knowles for kindly permitting me to reprint it now. The third discourse, that on vi ‘Emerson,’ was originally given in Emerson’s ‘own delightful town,’ Boston.
I am glad of every opportunity of thanking my American audiences for the unfailing attention and kindness with which they listened to a speaker who did not flatter them, who would have flattered them ill, but who yet felt, and in fact expressed, more esteem and admiration than his words were sometimes, at a hasty first hearing, supposed to convey. I cannot think that what I have said of Emerson will finally be accounted scant praise, although praise universal and unmixed it certainly is not. What high esteem I feel for the suitableness and easy play of American institutions I have vii had occasion, since my return home, to say publicly and emphatically. But nothing in the discourse on ‘Numbers’ was at variance with this high esteem, although a caution, certainly, was suggested. But then some caution or other, to be drawn from the inexhaustibly fruitful truth that moral causes govern the standing and the falling of States, who is there that can be said not to need?
All need it, we in this country need it, as indeed in the discourse on ‘Numbers’ I have by an express instance shown. Yet as regards us in this country at the present moment, I am tempted, I confess, to resort to the great truth in question, not for caution so much as for consolation. Our viii politics are ‘battles of the kites and the crows,’ of the Barbarians and the Philistines; each combatant striving to affirm himself still, while all the vital needs and instincts of our national growth demand, not that either of the combatants should be enabled to affirm himself, but that each should be transformed. Our aristocratical class, the Barbarians, have no perception of the real wants of the community at home. Our middle classes, the great Philistine power, have no perception of our real relations to the world abroad, no clue, apparently, for guidance, where-ever that attractive and ever-victorious rhetorician, who is the Minister of their choice, may take them, except the formula of that submissive animal which ix carried the prophet Balaam. Our affairs are in the condition which, from such parties to our politics, might be expected. Yet amid all the difficulties and mortifications which beset us, with the Barbarians impossible, with the Philistines determining our present course, with our rising politicians seeking only that the mind of the Populace, when the Populace arrives at power, may be found in harmony with the mind of Mr. Carvell Williams, which they flatter themselves they have fathomed; with the House of Lords a danger, and the House of Commons a scandal, and the general direction of affairs infelicitous as we see it,—one consolation remains to us, and that no slight x or unworthy one. Infelicitous the general direction of our affairs may be; but the individual Englishman, whenever and wherever called upon to do his duty, does it almost invariably with the old energy, courage, virtue. And this is what we gain by having had, as a people, in the ground of our being, a firm faith in conduct; by having believed, more steadfastly and fervently than most, this great law that moral causes govern the standing and the falling of men and nations. The law gradually widens, indeed, so as to include light as well as honesty and energy; to make light, also, a moral cause. Unless we are transformed we cannot finally stand, and without more light we cannot be transformed. xi But in the trying hours through which before our transformation we have to pass, it may well console us to rest our thoughts upon our life’s law even as we have hitherto known it, and upon all which even in our present imperfect acception of it it has done for us.
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