Robert Green Ingersoll
“There is no darkness but ignorance.” Every human being is a necessary product of conditions, and every one is born with defects for which he cannot be held responsible. Nature seems to care nothing for the individual, nothing for the species.
Life pursuing life and in its turn pursued by death, presses to the snow line of the possible, and every form of life, of instinct, thought and action is fixed and determined by conditions, by countless antecedent and co-existing facts. The present is the child, and the necessary child, of all the past, and the mother of all the future.
Every human being longs to be happy, to satisfy the wants of the body with food, with roof and raiment, and to feed the hunger of the mind, according to his capacity, with love, wisdom, philosophy, art and song.
The wants of the savage are few; but with civilization the wants of the body increase, the intellectual horizon widens and the brain demands more and more.
The savage feels, but scarcely thinks. The passion of the savage is uninfluenced by his thought, while the thought of the philosopher is uninfluenced by passion. Children have wants and passions before they are capable of reasoning. So, in the infancy of the race, wants and passions dominate.
The savage was controlled by appearances, by impressions; he was mentally weak, mentally indolent, and his mind pursued the path of least resistance. Things were to him as they appeared to be. He was a natural believer in the supernatural, and, finding himself beset by dangers and evils, he sought in many ways the aid of unseen powers. His children followed his example, and for many ages, in many lands, millions and millions of human beings, many of them the kindest and the best, asked for supernatural help. Countless altars and temples have been built, and the supernatural has been worshiped with sacrifice and song, with self-denial, ceremony, thankfulness and prayer.
During all these ages, the brain of man was being slowly and painfully developed. Gradually mind came to the assistance of muscle, and thought became the friend of labor. Man has advanced just in the proportion that he has mingled thought with his work, just in the proportion that he has succeeded in getting his head and hands into partnership. All this was the result of experience.
Nature, generous and heartless, extravagant and miserly as she is, is our mother and our only teacher, and she is also the deceiver of men. Above her we cannot rise, below her we cannot fall. In her we find the seed and soil of all that is good, of all that is evil. Nature originates, nourishes, preserves and destroys.
Good deeds bear fruit, and in the fruit are seeds that in their turn bear fruit and seeds. Great thoughts are never lost, and words of kindness do not perish from the earth.
Every brain is a field where nature sows the seeds of thought, and the crop depends upon the soil.
Every flower that gives its fragrance to the wandering air leaves its influence on the soul of man. The wheel and swoop of the winged creatures of the air suggest the flowing lines of subtle art. The roar and murmur of the restless sea, the cataract’s solemn chant, the thunder’s voice, the happy babble of the brook, the whispering leaves, the thrilling notes of mating birds, the sighing winds, taught man to pour his heart in song and gave a voice to grief and hope, to love and death.
In all that is, in mountain range and billowed plain, in winding stream and desert sand, in cloud and star, in snow and rain, in calm and storm, in night and day, in woods and vales, in all the colors of divided light, in all there is of growth and life, decay and death, in all that flies and floats and swims, in all that moves, in all the forms and qualities of things, man found the seeds and symbols of his thoughts; and all that man has wrought becomes a part of nature’s self, forming the lives of those to be. The marbles of the Greeks, like strains of music, suggest the perfect, and teach the melody of life. The great poems, paintings, inventions, theories and philosophies, enlarge and mould the mind of man. All that is natural. All is naturally produced. Beyond the horizon of the natural man cannot go.
Yet, for many ages, man in all directions has relied upon, and sincerely believed in, the existence of the supernatural. He did not believe in the uniformity of nature; he had no conception of cause and effect, of the indestructibility of force.
In medicine he believed in charms, magic, amulets, and incantations. It never occurred to the savage that diseases were natural.
In chemistry he sought for the elixir of life, for the philosopher’s stone, and for some way of changing the baser metals into gold.
In mechanics he searched for perpetual motion, believing that he, by some curious combinations of levers, could produce, could create a force.
In government, he found the source of authority in the will of the supernatural.
For many centuries his only conception of morality was the idea of obedience, not to facts as they exist in nature, but to the supposed command of some being superior to nature. During all these years religion consisted in the praise and worship of the invisible and infinite, of some vast and incomprehensible power, that is to say, of the supernatural.
By experience, by experiment, possibly by accident, man found that some diseases could be cured by natural means; that he could be relieved in many instances of pain by certain kinds of leaves or bark.
This was the beginning. Gradually his confidence increased in the direction of the natural, and began to decrease in charms and amulets, The war was waged for many centuries, but the natural gained the victory. Now we know that all diseases are naturally produced, and that all remedies, all curatives, act in accordance with the facts in nature. Now we know that charms, magic, amulets and incantations are just as useless in the practice of medicine as they would be in solving a problem in mathematics. We now know that there are no supernatural remedies.
In chemistry the war was long and bitter; but we now no longer seek for the elixir of life, and no one is trying to find the philosopher’s stone. We are satisfied that there is nothing supernatural in all the realm of chemistry. We know that substances are always true to their natures; we know that just so many atoms of one substance will unite with just so many of another. The miraculous has departed from chemistry; in that science there is no magic, no caprice and no possible use for the supernatural. We are satisfied that there can be no change, that we can absolutely rely on the uniformity of nature; that the attraction of gravitation will always remain the same; and we feel that we know this as certainly as we know that the relation between the diameter and circumference of a circle can never change.
We now know that in mechanics the natural is supreme. We know that man can by no possibility create a force; that by no possibility can he destroy a force. No mechanic dreams of depending upon or asking for any supernatural aid. He knows that he works in accordance with certain facts that no power can change.
So we in the United States believe that the authority to govern, the authority to make and execute laws, comes from the consent of the governed and not from any supernatural source. We do not believe that the king occupied his throne because of the will of the supernatural. Neither do we believe that others are subjects or serfs or slaves by reason of any supernatural will.
So, our ideas of morality have changed, and millions now believe that whatever produces happiness and well-being is in the highest sense moral. Unreasoning obedience is not the foundation or the essence of morality. That is the result of mental slavery. To act in accordance with obligation perceived is to be free and noble. To simply obey is to practice what might be called a slave virtue; but real morality is the flower and fruit of liberty and wisdom.
There are very many who have reached the conclusion that the supernatural has nothing to do with real religion. Religion does not consist in believing without evidence or against evidence. It does not consist in worshiping the unknown or in trying to do something for the Infinite. Ceremonies, prayers and inspired books, miracles, special providence, and divine interference all belong to the supernatural and form no part of real religion.
Every science rests on the natural, on demonstrated facts. So, morality and religion must find their foundations in the necessary nature of things.
Ignorance being darkness, what we need is intellectual light. The most important things to teach, as the basis of all progress, are that the universe is natural; that man must be the providence of man; that, by the development of the brain, we can avoid some of the dangers, some of the evils, overcome some of the obstructions, and take advantage of some of the facts and forces of nature; that, by invention and industry, we can supply, to a reasonable degree, the wants of the body, and by thought, study and effort, we can in part satisfy the hunger of the mind.
Man should cease to expect any aid from any supernatural source. By this time he should be satisfied that worship has not created wealth, and that prosperity is not the child of prayer. He should know that the supernatural has not succored the oppressed, clothed the naked, fed the hungry, shielded the innocent, stayed the pestilence, or freed the slave.
Being satisfied that the supernatural does not exist, man should turn his entire attention to the affairs of this world, to the facts in nature.
And, first of all, he should avoid waste — waste of energy, waste of wealth. Every good man, every good woman, should try to do away with war, to stop the appeal to savage force. Man in a savage state relies upon his strength, and decides for himself what is right and what is wrong. Civilized men do not settle their differences by a resort to arms. They submit the quarrel to arbitrators and courts. This is the great difference between the savage and the civilized. Nations, however, sustain the relations of savages to each other. There is no way of settling their disputes. Each nation decides for itself, and each nation endeavors to carry its decision into effect. This produces war. Thousands of men at this moment are trying to invent more deadly weapons to destroy their fellow-men. For eighteen hundred years peace has been preached, and yet the Christian nations are the most warlike of the world. There are in Europe to-day between eleven and twelve millions of soldiers, ready to take the field, and the frontiers of every civilized nation are protected by breastwork and fort. The sea is covered with steel clad ships, filled with missiles of death. The civilized world has impoverished itself and the debt of Christendom, mostly for war, is now nearly thirty thousand million dollars. The interest on this vast sum has to be paid; it has to be paid by labor, much of it by the poor, by those who are compelled to deny themselves almost the necessities of life. This debt is growing year by year. There must come a change, or Christendom will become bankrupt.
The interest on this debt amounts at least to nine hundred million dollars a year; and the cost of supporting armies and navies, of repairing ships, of manufacturing new engines of death, probably amounts, including the interest on the debt, to at least six million dollars a day. Allowing ten hours for a day, that is for a working day, the waste of war is at least six hundred thousand dollars an hour, that is to say, ten thousand dollars a minute.
Think of all this being paid for the purpose of killing and preparing to kill our fellow-men. Think of the good that could be done with this vast sum of money; the schools that could be built, the wants that could be supplied. Think of the homes it would build, the children it would clothe.
If we wish to do away with war, we must provide for the settlement of national differences by an international court. This court should be in perpetual session; its members should be selected by the various governments to be affected by its decisions, and, at the command and disposal of this court, the rest of Christendom being disarmed, there should be a military force sufficient to carry its judgments into effect. There should be no other excuse, no other business for an army or a navy in the civilized world.
No man has imagination enough to paint the agonies, the honors and cruelties of war. Think of sending shot and shell crashing through the bodies of men! Think of the widows and orphans! Think of the maimed, the mutilated, the mangled!
Let us be perfectly candid with each other. We are seeking the truth, trying to find what ought to be done to increase the well- being of man. I must give you my honest thought. You have the right to demand it, and I must maintain the integrity of my soul.
There is another direction in which the wealth and energies of man are wasted. From the beginning of history until now man has been seeking the aid of the supernatural. For many centuries the wealth of the world was used to propitiate the unseen powers. In our own country, the property dedicated to this purpose is worth at least one thousand million dollars. The interest on this sum is fifty million dollars a year, and the cost of employing persons, whose business it is to seek the aid of the supernatural and to maintain the property, is certainly as much more. So that the cost in our country is about two million dollars a week, and, counting ten hours as a working day, this amounts to about five hundred dollars a minute.
For this vast amount of money the returns are remarkably small. The good accomplished does not appear to he great. There is no great diminution in crime. The decrease of immorality and poverty is hardly perceptible. In spite, however, of the apparent failure here, a vast sum of money is expended every year to carry our ideas of the supernatural to other races. Our churches, for the most part, are closed during the week, being used only a part of one day in seven. No one wishes to destroy churches or church organizations. The only desire is that they shall accomplish substantial good for the world. In many of our small towns — towns of three or four thousand people — will be found four or five churches, sometimes more. These churches are founded upon immaterial differences; a difference as to the mode of baptism; a difference as to who shall be entitled to partake of the Lord’s supper; a difference of ceremony; of government; a difference about fore-ordination; a difference about fate and free will. And it must be admitted that all the arguments on all sides of these differences have been presented countless millions of times. Upon these subjects nothing new is produced or anticipated, and yet the discussion is maintained by the repetition of the old arguments.
Now, it seems to me that it would be far better for the people of a town, having a population of four or five thousand, to have one church. and the edifice should be of use, not only on Sunday, but on every day of the week. In this building should be the library of the town. It should be the clubhouse of the people, where they could find the principal newspapers and periodicals of the world. Its auditorium should be like a theater. Plays should be presented by home talent; an orchestra formed, music cultivated. The people should meet there at any time they desire. The women could carry their knitting and sewing; and connected with it should be rooms for the playing of games, billiards, cards, and chess. Everything should be made as agreeable as possible. The citizens should take pride in this building. They should adorn its niches with statues and its walls with pictures. It should be the intellectual center. They could employ a gentleman of ability, possibly of genius, to address them on Sundays, on subjects that would be of real interest, of real importance. They could say to this minister:
“We are engaged in business during the week; while we are working at our trades and professions, we want you to study, and on Sunday tell us what you have found out.”
Let such a minister take for a series of sermons the history, the philosophy, the art and the genius of the Greeks. Let him tell of the wondrous metaphysics, myths and religions of India and Egypt. Let him make his congregation conversant with the philosophies of the world, with the great thinkers, the great poets, the great artists, the great actors, the great orators, the great inventors, the captains of industry, the soldiers of progress. Let them have a Sunday school in which the children shall be made acquainted with the facts of nature; with botany, entomology, something of geology and astronomy.
Let them be made familiar with the greatest of poems, the finest paragraphs of literature, with stories of the heroic, the self-denying and generous.
Now, it seems to me that such a congregation in a few years would become the most intelligent people in the United States.
The truth is that people are tired of the old theories. They have lost confidence in the miraculous, in the supernatural, and they have ceased to take interest in “facts” that they do not quite believe.
“There is no darkness but ignorance.”
There is no light but intelligence.
As often as we can exchange a mistake for a fact, a falsehood for a truth, we advance. We add to the intellectual wealth of the world, and in this way, and in this way alone, can be laid the foundation for the future prosperity and civilization of the race.
I blame no one; I call in question the motives of no person; I admit that the world has acted as it must.
But hope for the future depends upon the intelligence of the present. Man must husband his resources. He must not waste his energies in endeavoring to accomplish the impossible.
He must take advantage of the forces of nature. He must depend on education, on what he can ascertain by the use of his senses, by observation, by experiment and reason. He must break the chains of prejudice and custom. He must be free to express his thoughts on all questions. He must find the conditions of happiness and become wise enough to live in accordance with them.
HOW CAN WE LESSEN CRIME?
In spite of all that has been done for the reformation of the world, in spite of all the inventions, in spite of all the forces of nature that are now the tireless slaves of man, in spite of all improvements in agriculture, in mechanics, in every department of human labor, the world is still cursed with poverty and with crime.
The prisons are full, the courts are crowded, the officers of the law are busy, and there seems to be no material decrease in crime.
For many thousands of years man has endeavored to reform his fellow-men by imprisonment, torture, mutilation and death, and yet the history of the world shows that there has been and is no reforming power in punishment. It is impossible to make the penalty great enough, horrible enough to lessen crime.
Only a few years ago, in civilized countries, larceny and many offenses even below larceny, were punished by death; and yet the number of thieves and criminals of all grades increased. Traitors were hanged and quartered or drawn into fragments by horses; and yet treason flourished.
Most of these frightful laws have been repealed, and the repeal certainly did not increase crime. In our own country we rely upon the gallows, the penitentiary and the jail. When a murder is committed, the man is hanged, shocked to death by electricity, or lynched, and in a few minutes a new murderer is ready to suffer a like fate. Men steal; they are sent to the penitentiary for a certain number of years, treated like wild beasts, frequently tortured. At the end of the term they are discharged, having only enough money to return to the place from which they were sent. They are thrown upon the world without means — without friends — they are convicts. They are shunned, suspected and despised. If they obtain a place, they are discharged as soon as it is found that they were in prison. They do the best they can to retain the respect of their fellow-men by denying their imprisonment and their identity. In a little while, unable to gain a living by honest means, they resort to crime, they again appear in court, and again are taken within the dungeon walls. No reformation, no chance to reform, nothing to give them bread while making new friends.
All this is infamous. Men should not be sent to the penitentiary as a punishment, because we must remember that men do as they must. Nature does not frequently produce the perfect. In the human race there is a large percentage of failures. Under certain conditions, with certain appetites and passions and with a certain quality, quantity and shape of brain, men will become thieves, forgers and counterfeiters. The question is whether reformation is possible, whether a change can be produced in the person by producing a change in the conditions. The criminal is dangerous and society has the right to protect itself. The criminal should be confined, and, if possible, should be reformed. A penitentiary should be a school; the convicts should be educated. So, prisoners should work, and they should be paid a reasonable sum for their labor. The best men should have charge of prisons. They should be philanthropists and philosophers; they should know something of human nature. The prisoner, having been taught, we will say, for five years — taught the underlying principles of conduct, of the naturalness and harmony of virtue, of the discord of crime; having been convinced that society has no hatred, that nobody wishes to punish, to degrade, or to rob him; and being at the time of his discharge paid a reasonable price for his labor; being allowed by law to change his name, so that his identity will not be preserved, he could go out of the prison a friend of the government. He would have the feeling that he had been made a better man; that he had been treated with justice, with mercy, and the money he carried with him would be a breastwork behind which he could defy temptation, a breastwork that would support and take care of him until he could find some means by which to support himself. And this man, instead of making crime a business, would become a good, honorable and useful citizen.
As it is now, there is but little reform. The same faces appear again and again at the bar; the same men hear again and again the verdict of guilty and the sentence of the court, and the same men return again and again to the prison cell. Murderers, those belonging to the dangerous classes, those who are so formed by nature that they rash to the crimes of desperation, should be imprisoned for life; or they should be put upon some island, some place where they can be guarded, where it may be that by proper effort they could support themselves; the men on one island, the women on another. And to these islands should be sent professional criminals, those who have deliberately adopted a life of crime for the purpose of supporting themselves, the women upon one island, the men upon another. Such people should not populate the earth.
Neither the diseases nor the deformities of the mind or body should be perpetuated. Life at the fountain should not be polluted.
HOMES FOR ALL
The home is the unit of the nation. The more homes the broader the foundation of the nation and the more secure.
Everything that is possible should be done to keep this from being a nation of tenants. The men who cultivate the earth should own it. Something has already been done in our country in that direction, and probably in every State there is a homestead exemption. This exemption has thus for done no harm to the creditor class. When we imprisoned people for debt, debts were as insecure, to say the least, as now. By the homestead laws, a home of a certain value or of a certain extent, is exempt from forced levy or sale; and these laws have done great good. Undoubtedly they have trebled the homes of the nation.
I wish to go a step further. I want, if possible, to get the people out of the tenements, out of the gutters of degradation, to homes where there can be privacy, where these people can feel that they are in partnership with nature; that they have an interest in good government. With the means we now have of transportation, there is no necessity for poor people being huddled in festering masses in the vile, filthy and loathsome parts of cities, where poverty breeds rags, and the rags breed diseases. I would exempt a homestead of a reasonable value, say of the value of two or three thousand dollars, not only from sale under execution, but from sale for taxes of every description. These homes should be absolutely exempt; they should belong to the family, so that every mother should feel that the roof above her head was hers; that her house was her castle, and that in its possession she could not be disturbed, even by the nation. Under certain conditions I would allow the sale of this homestead, and exempt the proceeds of the sale for a certain time, during which they might be invested in another home; and all this could be done to make a nation of householders, a nation of land-owners, a nation of home-builders. I would invoke the same power to preserve these homes, and to acquire these homes, that I would invoke for acquiring lands for building railways. Every State should fix the amount of land that could be owned by an individual, not liable to be taken from him for the purpose of giving a home to another, and when any man owned more acres than the law allowed, and another should ask to purchase them, and he should refuse, I would have the law so that the person wishing to purchase could file his petition in court. The court would appoint commissioners, or a jury would be called, to determine the value of the land the petitioner wished for a home, and, upon the amount being paid, found by such commission, or jury, the land should vest absolutely in the petitioner.
This right of eminent domain should be used not only for the benefit of the person wishing a home. but for the benefit of all the people. Nothing is more important to America than that the babes of America should be born around the firesides of homes.
There is another question in which I take great interest, and it ought, in my judgement, to be answered by the intelligence and kindness of our century.
We all know that for many, many ages, men have been slaves, and we all know that during all these years, women have, to some extent been the slaves of slaves. It is of the utmost importance to the human race that women, that mothers, should be free. Without doubt, the contract of marriage is the most important and the most sacred that human beings can make. Marriage is the most important of all institutions. Of course, the ceremony of marriage is not the real marriage. It is only evidence of the mutual flames that burn within. There can be no real marriage without mutual love. So I believe in the ceremony of marriage, that it should be public; that records should be kept. Besides, the ceremony says to all the world that those who marry are in love with each other.
Then arises the question of divorce. Millions of people imagine that the married are joined together by some supernatural power, and that they should remain together, or at least married. during life. If all who have been married were joined together by the supernatural, we must admit that the supernatural is not infinitely wise.
After all, marriage is a contract, and the parties to the contract are bound to keep its provisions; and neither should be released from such a contract unless, in some way, the interests of society are involved. I would have the law so that any husband could obtain a divorce when the wife had persistently and flagrantly violated the contract; such divorce to be granted on equitable terms. I would give the wife a divorce if she requested it, if she wanted it.
And I would do this, not only for her sake, but for the sake of the community, of the nation. All children should be children of love. All that are born should be sincerely welcomed. The children of mothers who dislike, or hate, or loathe the fathers, will fill the world with insanity and crime. No woman should by law, or by public opinion, be forced to live with a man whom she abhors. There is no danger of demoralizing the world through divorce. Neither is there any danger of destroying in the human heart that divine thing called love. As long as the human race exists, men and women will love each other, and just so long there will be true and perfect marriage. Slavery is not the soil or rain of virtue.
I make a difference between granting divorce to a man and to a woman, and for this reason: A woman dowers her husband with her youth and beauty. He should not be allowed to desert her because she has grown wrinkled and old. Her capital is gone; her prospects in life lessened; while, on the contrary, he may be far better able to succeed than when he married her. As a rule, the man can take care of himself, and as a rule, the woman needs help. So, I would not allow him to cast her off unless she had flagrantly violated the contract. But, for the sake of the community, and especially for the sake of the babes, I would give her a divorce for the asking.
There will never be a generation of great men until there has been a generation of free women — of free mothers.
The tenderest word in our language is maternity. In this word is the divine mingling of ecstasy and agony — of love and self- sacrifice. This word is holy!
THE LABOR QUESTION
There has been for many years ceaseless discussion upon what is called the labor question; the conflict between the workingman and the capitalist. Many ways have been devised, some experiments have been tried for the purpose of solving this question. Profit- sharing would not work, because it is impossible to share profits with those who are incapable of sharing losses. Communities have been formed, the object being to pay the expenses and share the profits among all the persons belonging to the society. For the most part these have failed.
Others have advocated arbitration. And, while it may be that the employers could be bound by the decision of the arbitrators, there has been no way discovered by which the employees could be held by such decision. In other words, the question has not been solved.
For my own part, I see no final and satisfactory solution except through the civilization of employers and employed. The question is so complicated, the ramifications are so countless, that a solution by law, or by force, seems at least improbable. Employers are supposed to pay according to their profits. They may or may not. Profits may be destroyed by competition. The employer is at the mercy of other employers, and as much so as his employees are at his mercy. The employers cannot govern prices; they cannot fix demand; they cannot control supply; and at present, in the world of trade, the laws of supply and demand, except when interfered with by conspiracy, are in absolute control.
Will the time arrive, and can it arrive, except by developing the brain, except by the aid of intellectual light, when the purchaser will wish to give what a thing is worth, when the employer will be satisfied with a reasonable profit, when the employer will be anxious to give the real value for raw material; when he will be really anxious to pay the laborer the full value of his labor? Will the employer ever become civilized enough to know that the law of supply and demand should not absolutely apply in the labor market of the world? Will he ever become civilized enough not to take advantage of the necessities of the poor, of the hunger and rags and want of poverty? Will he ever become civilized enough to say: “I will pay the man who labors for me enough to give him a reasonable support, enough for him to assist in taking care of wife and children, enough for him to do this, and lay aside something to feed and clothe him when old age comes; to lay aside something, enough to give him house and hearth during the December of his life, so that he can warm his worn and shriveled hands at the fire of home”?
Of course, capital can do nothing without the assistance of labor. All there is of value in the world is the product of labor. The laboring man pays all the expenses. No matter whether taxes are laid on luxuries or on the necessaries of life, labor pays every cent.
So we must remember that, day by day, labor is becoming intelligent. So, I believe the employer is gradually becoming civilized, gradually becoming kinder; and many men who have made large fortunes from the labor of their fellows have given of their millions to what they regarded as objects of charity, or for the interests of education. This is a kind of penance, because the men that have made this money from the brain and muscle of their fellow-men have ever felt that it was not quite their own. Many of these employers have sought to balance their accounts by leaving something for universities, for the establishment of libraries, drinking fountains, or to build monuments to departed greatness. It would have been, I think, far better had they used this money to better the condition of the men who really earned it.
So, I think that when we become civilized, great corporations will make provision for men who have given their lives to their service. I think the great railroads should pay pensions to their worn out employees. They should take care of them in old age. They should not maim and wear out their servants and then discharge them, and allow them to be supported in poorhouses. These great companies should take care of the men they maim; they should look out for the ones whose lives they have used and whose labor has been the foundation of their prosperity. Upon this question, public sentiment should be aroused to such a degree that these corporations would be ashamed to use a human life and then throw away the broken old man as they would cast aside a rotten tie.
It may be that the mechanics, the workingmen, will finally become intelligent enough to really unite, to act in absolute concert. Could this be accomplished, then a reasonable rate of compensation could be fixed and enforced. Now such efforts are local, and the result up to this time has been failure. But, if all could unite, they could obtain what is reasonable, what is just, and they would have the sympathy of a very large majority of their fellow-men, provided they were reasonable.
But, before they can act in this way, they must become really intelligent, intelligent enough to know what is reasonable and honest enough to ask for no more.
So much has already been accomplished for the workingman that I have hope, and great hope, of the future. The hours of labor have been shortened, and materially shortened, in many countries. There was a time when men worked fifteen and sixteen hours a day. Now, generally, a day’s work is not longer than ten hours, and the tendency is to still further decrease the hours.
By comparing long periods of time, we more clearly perceive the advance that has been made. In 1860, the average amount earned by the laboring men, workmen, mechanics, per year, was about two hundred and eighty-five dollars. It is now about five hundred dollars, and a dollar to-day will purchase more of the necessaries of life, more food, clothing and fuel, than it would in 1860. These facts are full of hope for the future.
All our sympathies should be with the men who work, who toil; for the women who labor for themselves and children; because we know that labor is the foundation of all, and that those who labor are the Caryatides that support the structure and glittering dome of civilization and progress.
EDUCATE THE CHILDREN
Every child should be taught to be self-supporting, and every one should be taught to avoid being a burden on others, as they would shun death. Every child should be taught that the useful are the honorable, and that they who live on the labor of others are the enemies of society. Every child should be taught that useful work is worship and that intelligent labor is the highest form of prayer.
Children should be taught to think, to investigate, to rely upon the light of reason, of observation and experience; should be taught to use all their senses; and they should be taught only that which in some sense is really useful. They should be taught the use of tools, to use their hands, to embody their thoughts in the construction of things. Their lives should not be wasted in the acquisition of the useless, or of the almost useless. Years should not be devoted to the acquisition of dead languages, or to the study of history which, for the most part, is a detailed account of things that never occurred. It is useless to fill the mind with dates of great battles, with the births and deaths of kings. They should be taught the philosophy of history, the growth of nations, of philosophies, theories, and, above all, of the sciences.
So, they should be taught the importance, not only of financial, but of mental honesty; to be absolutely sincere; to utter their real thoughts, and to give their actual opinions; and, if parents want honest children, they should be honest themselves. It may be that hypocrites transmit their failing to their offspring. Men and women who pretend to agree with the majority, who think one way and talk another, can hardly expect their children to be absolutely sincere.
Nothing should be taught in any school that the teacher does not know. Beliefs, superstitions, theories, should not be treated like demonstrated facts. The child should be taught to investigate, not to believe. Too much doubt is better than too much credulity. So, children should be taught that it is their duty to think for themselves, to understand, and, if possible, to know.
Real education is the hope of the future. The development of the brain, the civilization of the heart, will drive want and crime from the world. The schoolhouse is the real cathedral, and science the only possible savior of the human race. Education, real education, is the friend of honesty, of morality, of temperance.
We cannot rely upon legislative enactments to make people wise and good; neither can we expect to make human beings manly and womanly by keeping them out of temptation. Temptations are as thick as the leaves of the forest, and no one can be out of the reach of temptation unless he is dead. The great thing is to make people intelligent enough and strong enough, not to keep away from temptation, but to resist it. All the forces of civilization are in favor of morality and temperance. Little can be accomplished by law, because law, for the most part, about such things, is a destruction of personal liberty. Liberty cannot be sacrificed for the sake of temperance, for the sake of morality, or for the sake of anything. It is of more value than everything else. Yet some people would destroy the sun to prevent the growth of weeds. Liberty sustains the same relation to all the virtues that the sun does to life. The world had better go back to barbarism, to the dens, the caves and lairs of savagery; better lose all art, all inventions, than to lose liberty. Liberty is the breath of progress; it is the seed and soil, the heat and rain of love and joy.
So, all should be taught that the highest ambition is to be happy, and to add to the well-being of others; that place and power are not necessary to success; that the desire to acquire great wealth is a kind of insanity. They should be taught that it is a waste of energy, a waste of thought, a waste of life, to acquire what you do not need and what you do not really use for the benefit of yourself or others.
Neither mendicants nor millionaires are the happiest of mankind. The man at the bottom of the ladder hopes to rise; the man at the top fears to fall. The one asks; the other refuses; and, by frequent refusal, the heart becomes hard enough and the hand greedy enough to clutch and hold.
Few men have intelligence enough, real greatness enough, to own a great fortune. As a rule, the fortune owns them. Their fortune is their master, for whom they work and toil like slaves. The man who has a good business and who can make a reasonable living and lay aside something for the future, who can educate his children and can leave enough to keep the wolf of want from the door of those he loves, ought to be the happiest of men.
Now, society bows and kneels at the feet of wealth. Wealth gives power. Wealth commands flattery and adulation. And so, millions of men give all their energies, as well as their very souls, for the acquisition of gold. And this will continue as long as society is ignorant enough and hypocritical enough to hold in high esteem the man of wealth without the slightest regard to the character of the man.
In judging of the rich, two things should he considered: How did they get it, and what are they doing with it? Was it honestly acquired? Is it being used for the benefit of mankind? When people become really intelligent, when the brain is really developed, no human being will give his life to the acquisition of what he does not need or what he cannot intelligently use.
The time will come when the truly intelligent man cannot be happy, cannot be satisfied, when millions of his fellow-men are hungry and naked. The time will come when in every heart will be the perfume of pity’s sacred flower. The time will come when the world will be anxious to ascertain the truth, to find out the conditions of happiness, and to live in accordance with such conditions; and the time will come when in the brain of every human being will be the climate of intellectual hospitality.
Man will be civilized when the passions are dominated by the intellect, when reason occupies the throne, and when the hot blood of passion no longer rises in successful revolt.
To civilize the world, to hasten the coming of the Golden Dawn of the Perfect Day, we must educate the children, we must commence at the cradle, at the lap of the loving mother.
WE MUST WORK AND WAIT
The reforms that I have mentioned cannot be accomplished in a day, possibly not for many centuries; and in the meantime there is much crime, much poverty, much want, and consequently something must be done now.
Let each human being, within the limits of the possible be self-supporting; let every one take intelligent thought for the morrow; and if a human being supports himself and acquires a surplus, let him use a part of that surplus for the unfortunate; and let each one to the extent of his ability help his fellow-men. Let him do what he can in the circle of his own acquaintance to rescue the fallen, to help those who are trying to help themselves, to give work to the idle. Let him distribute kind words, words of wisdom, of cheerfulness and hope. In other words, let every human being do all the good he can, and let him bind up the wounds of his fellow-creatures, and at the same time put forth every effort, to hasten the coming of a better day.
This, in my judgment, is real religion. To do all the good you can is to be a saint in the highest and in the noblest sense. To do all the good you can; this is to be really and truly spiritual. To relieve suffering, to put the star of hope in the midnight of despair, this is true holiness. This is the religion of science. The old creeds are too narrow, they are not for the world in which we live. The old dogmas lack breadth and tenderness; they are too cruel, too merciless, too savage. We are growing grander and nobler.
The firmament inlaid with suns is the dome of the real cathedral. The interpreters of nature are the true and only priests. In the great creed are all the truths that lips have uttered, and in the real litany will be found all the ecstasies and aspirations of the soul, all dreams of joy, all hopes for nobler, fuller life. The real church, the real edifice, is adorned and glorified with all that Art has done. In the real choir is all the thrilling music of the world, and in the star-lit aisles have been, and are, the grandest souls of every land and clime.
“There is no darkness but ignorance.”
Let us flood the world with intellectual light.