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On Compromise eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 173 pages of information about On Compromise.
clergyman in the North the introduction of the Anti-slavery question, because the views of their sect were “getting on so well before!” “Getting on!” cried the northern minister.  “What is the use of getting your vessel on when you have thrown both captain and cargo overboard?” Thus, what signifies the pursuit of any one reform, like those specified,—­Anti-slavery and the Woman question,—­when the freedom which is the very soul of the controversy, the very principle of the movement,—­is mourned over in any other of its many manifestations?  The only effectual advocates of such reforms as those are people who follow truth wherever it leads.’—­Autobiography, ii. 442.]

CHAPTER V.

THE REALISATION OF OPINION.

A person who takes the trouble to form his own opinions and beliefs will feel that he owes no responsibility to the majority for his conclusions.  If he is a genuine lover of truth, if he is inspired by the divine passion for seeing things as they are, and a divine abhorrence of holding ideas which do not conform to the facts, he will be wholly independent of the approval or assent of the persons around him.  When he proceeds to apply his beliefs in the practical conduct of life, the position is different.  There are now good reasons why his attitude should be in some ways less inflexible.  The society in which he is placed is a very ancient and composite growth.  The people from whom he dissents have not come by their opinions, customs, and institutions by a process of mere haphazard.  These opinions and customs all had their origin in a certain real or supposed fitness.  They have a certain depth of root in the lives of a proportion of the existing generation.  Their fitness for satisfying human needs may have vanished, and their congruity with one another may have come to an end.  That is only one side of the truth.  The most zealous propagandism cannot penetrate to them.  The quality of bearing to be transplanted from one kind of soil and climate to another is not very common, and it is far from being inexhaustible even where it exists.

In common language we speak of a generation as something possessed of a kind of exact unity, with all its parts and members one and homogeneous.  Yet very plainly it is not this.  It is a whole, but a whole in a state of constant flux.  Its factors and elements are eternally shifting.  It is not one, but many generations.  Each of the seven ages of man is neighbour to all the rest.  The column of the veterans is already staggering over into the last abyss, while the column of the newest recruits is forming with all its nameless and uncounted hopes.  To each its tradition, its tendency, its possibilities.  Only a proportion of each in one society can have nerve enough to grasp the banner of a new truth, and endurance enough to bear it along rugged and untrodden ways.

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