We cannot deliberately make thoughts. Thought is like life itself: science has not found a formula which will produce it. But just as marriage produces new lives, though we cannot say how, so study and meditation produce thoughts. Something new appears: a concept which was not with the race before.
The work of sages has been to rule the thinking of the race. They receive the inspired ideas and spend their lives in teaching them to others: in setting up intellectual vibrations throughout the world.
Some day, I hope Sargent will paint a March of Sages, as gloriously as he has painted the panels of the Prophets. Then we shall gaze upon the train of heavy-browed, noble-eyed, wise, gentle-mannered men, who have been the enduring teachers of the race,—thinkers, leaders, seers. Confucius, Pythagoras, Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, the mediaeval philosophers, the Egyptian, Persian, and Arabian thinkers, Roger Bacon, Thomas Aquinas, Eckhart, William of Occam, Bede, Thomas a Kempis, Francis Bacon, Kant, John Stuart Mill, Spencer,—with what dignity the processional moves down the years! The sum of human knowledge is vast; but how much more vast seem the achievements of each of these men, when we realize how few his years, and how many the obstacles and impediments of his all too short career! There is ever a pathos in the life of the wise.
By thinking, we pass from the gossip of the neighborhood into the conversation of the years. We do not know what Alcibiades said to his man-servant about the care of his clothes, baths, perfumes,—nor what his man-servant retailed to other retainers of the eccentricities and vanities of his master. But we know what Pericles and Plato said to the race. Here is the advantage of a thinking mind—that at any moment one may enter into eternal subjects of thought, and have converse with those who of all times have been the most profound.
Nothing teases the soul like the thought of the unfinished, the imperfect, the incomplete. And yet, when we have thought and planned a really great and abiding work, whether we ever finish it or not—for many things in life may intervene between conception and completion—to have thought of it is to have had in our lives a pleasure that can never die. For one blessed hour or year we have been lifted to the thoughts of God and have entered into the great original Design. Hence it is that the life of the real Thinker, however broken or disturbed, is at heart a life of serenity and joy. What matters a conflagration, a disappointment, to him whose thoughts are set upon the race?
Thinking is a form of vital growth. We all wish for growth. Is there any one who wishes to stay always just where he is to-day? To be always what he is this morning? The tree grows, the flower grows, the ideals of the race grow—shall not I?
We are born to a destiny which has no limit of grandeur save the limit of the thought of God, The wish for growth is the wish to enter into the spiritual ideals of the universe,—to become one with its advancement, one with its decrees.