Work Done for Humanity
1890 — Seventeenth Convention, World’s Women’s Christian Temperance Union, Atlanta GA
I wish we were all more thorough students of the mighty past, for we should thus be rendered braver prophets of the future, and more cheerful workers in the present. History shows us with what tenacity the human race survives. Earthquake, famine, and pestilence have done their worst, but over them rolls a healing tide of years and they are lost to view; on sweeps the great procession, and hardly shows a scar. Rulers around whom clustered new forms of civilization pass away; but greater men succeed them. Nations are rooted up; great hopes seem blighted; revolutions rise and rivers run with the blood of patriots; the globe itself seems headed toward the abyss; new patriots are born; higher hopes bloom out like stars; humanity emerges from the dark ages vastly ahead of what it was on entering that cave of gloom, and ever the right comes uppermost; and now is Christ’s kingdom nearer than when we first believed.
Only those who have not studied history lose heart in great reforms; only those unread in the biography of genius imagine themselves to be original. Except in the realm of material invention, there is nothing new under the sun. There is no reform which some great soul has not dreamed of centuries ago; there is not a doctrine that some father of the Church did not set forth. The Greek philosophers and early Christian Fathers boxed the compass once for all; we may take our choice of what they have left on record. Let us then learn a wise humility, but at the same time a humble wisdom, as we remember that there are but two classes of men—one which declares that our times are the worst the world has seen, and another which claims our times as best—and he who claims this, all revelation, all science, all history witnesses is right and will be right forevermore.
The most normal and the most perfect human being is the one who most thoroughly addresses himself to the activity of his best powers, gives himself most thoroughly to the world around him, flings himself out into the midst of humanity, and is so preoccupied by his own beneficent reaction on the world that he is practically unconscious of a separate existence. Introspection, and retrospection were good for the cloister; but the uplook, the outlook and the onlook are alone worthy the modern Christian. To change the figure, a normal Christian stands in the midst of a great, beautiful and varied landscape. It is the landscape of beneficent work. Above him reaches the boundless skies, brilliant with the stars of God and Heaven.
Love and friendship form a beautiful rainbow over his landscape and reach up toward his sky. But the only two great environments of the soul are work for humanity and faith in God. Those wounded in love will find that affection, dear and vital as it is, comes to us not as the whole of life, not as its wide wondrous landscape of the earth, not as its beautiful vision of the sky, but as its beautiful embellishment, its rainbow fair and sweet. But were it gone there would still remain the two greatest and most satisfying pictures on which the soul can gaze—humanity and God.
Source: The World’s Famous Orations, Vol. 10, Ed. William Jennings Bryan, 1906.