Renounce joy for thy fellow’s sake?
That’s joy beyond joy!
There are half a dozen ragged boys who love me: there are twenty more who will do so in time; and there is my drunken friend with the dog’s eyes, who looks to me to save him from the pit; what more can I ask? Fog and mire, grime and drudgery, these never trouble me, because I see Lucraft’s Row, lit with a star, waiting for me at the end of every day. And the star is growing bigger and brighter, for it shines over a tiny obscure Bethlehem where the Soul is getting itself born in a few humble hearts. To be permitted to see this miracle, to assist in this incarnation of the Soul of the People, is its own exceeding great reward; and I may be envied, but never pitied.’
So ran the letter of my friend, and as I transcribe it I feel anew that it is an indictment not to be easily set aside. I must think over what I can reply to it. It seems as though if he be right in his mode of life I must be wrong in mine; and yet may we not both be right? Are we not seeing life from different angles?
Yes, I must have time for thought before I can reply to such a letter.
AM I RIGHT?
I have given myself a week to think over the letter of my friend, and I am now able to perceive that it is built upon a number of most ingenious fallacies. The chief fallacy appears to be this—that he insists that the race must always count for more than the individual, and that the individual must fall in line and step with the average conventions of the race at the expense of his own well-being, or be judged a deserter and a recreant.
It is hardly necessary to point out that no doctrine could be more hostile to collective progress, because progress is not a collective movement, but the movement of great individuals who drag the race after them. I do not recollect a single human reform that has been spontaneously generated in the heart of society itself; it has always had its beginnings in the hearts of individuals. Thus the Reformation is practically Martin Luther, the Evangelical revival is Wesley, the Oxford Movement is Newman, Free Trade is Cobden, and so on through a hundred regenerations of thought, morals, and politics. ’The world being what it is, we must take it as we find it,’ is a note of quiet desperation. It is precisely because the Providence of History has again and again raised up men who were incapable of taking the world as they found it, that regenerations and reformations of society have occurred at all. Society never moves forward except when it is goaded by the spirit of individual genius. So far as we can trace the history of civilisation, and thanks to modern research we have about ten thousand years to go by, civilisation is a succession of waves, each flowing a little higher than its predecessor, with an ebb between each. At what point is the ebb checked, at what