The Battle of Life
c. 1865 — on her husband’s pulpit in Chicago, and later delivered hundreds of times across the country as a lyceum speech
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN:
Our estimates of earthly life vary according to our positions and experiences. To one life is a “vale of tears.” His nature is pitched on a minor key, so that he becomes very sensitive to the undertones of complaint and sorrow with which the world is filled. He identified himself with the unhappy and dissatisfied, and like the river sponge, is forever sautéed with the passing streams of other people’s woes. To another, life is a “pilgrimage to a better country,” and he counts off the days as they fleet by, satisfied, for each one brings him nearer to his destination. To a third, life is only an “inscrutable mystery,” a problem that cannot be solved, a riddle whose meaning is past finding out. To him, the oft-propounded questions, “Who are we? Whence came we? Whither are we doing?” have no satisfactory answer. A fourth is overwhelmed by a sense of the brevity of life. It is a “tale that is told,” “a dream of the night;” “the mist of the morning;” “the grass that flouisheth in the morning, and which, at night is cut down, and withered.” Others will tell you that “life is a great game,” and that they are the skillful players who win; — that it is “a time of probation, in which we may escape from hell, and flee to heaven;” — that it is a brief “gala day,” when we should “eat, drink, and be merry, since to-morrow we die;” —and so on, through the whole range of metaphor and symbolry.
But when it is declared that life is a battle, a statement is made that appeals to every one who has reached adult life; aye, and to a great multitude who are only a little way across the threshold. As our experience deepens we realize that the whole world is one vast encampment, and that every man and woman is a soldier. We have not voluntarily enlisted into this service with an understanding of the hardness of the warfare, and an acceptance of its terms and conditions, but have been drafted into the conflict, and cannot escape taking part in it. We were not even allowed to take our place in the ranks, but have been pushed into life, to our seeming, arbitrarily, and cannot be discharged until mustered out by death. Nor is it permitted us to furnish a substitute, though we have the wealth of a Rockefeller at our command, and the powerful and far- reaching influence of the Czar of all the Russias. We may prove deserters, or traitors, and straggle to the rear during the conflict, or go over to the enemy and fight under the black flag of wrong. But the fact remains that we are all drafted into the battle of life, and are expected to do our duty according to the best of our ability.
Do you ask: “Why should life be packed so full of conflict? Why was it not planned to be harmonious and congenial?” I am unable to answer that question, and do not propose to discuss the “origin of evil,” which has vexed the various schools of philosophy. I accept the fact that the whole world has been a scene of conflict as far back as we know anything about it. The literature of every nation resounds with it, and the poets, teachers, philosophers, and historians of all languages bear uniform and universal testimony to the effect that “the whole creation has always groaned, and travailed in pain.” Victory has alternated with defeat, and every experience of development in the animal creation has been purchased with a sharp emphasis of pain. For the world has many lives poured into it which are sustained only as “each living thing is up with bill, or beak, or tooth, or claw, or toilsome hand, or sweating brow, to conquer the means of a living.”
We cannot look at the world as it is to-day, a scene of vast and universal conflict, without believing it to be organic, and the design of the Creator. We cannot study history, and see how every step of progress made by the human race has been won by the hardest efforts, and represents ages of conflict behind it, — how every great truth of religion, or science, every social reform, and every noble interpretation of liberty has fought its way to supremacy in the face of hindrance detraction, persecution, and death, and conclude that this has been accidental, or contrary to the will of God. We cannot escape the deduction that the world has been purposely construed, not as a harmonious machine, but as a vast realm of experience, where effort and struggle, trouble and sorrow are appointed as the necessary educators of the race; — and this, not through the malevolence, but the benignity of the Creator.
“There is a simple and central law which governs this matter,” says a scientific writer; “and that is this; every definite action is conditioned upon a definite resistance, and it impossible without it. We are only able to walk, because the earth resists the foot, and are unable to tread the air and water, because they deny the foot the opposition which it requires. The bird and the steamer are hindered by air and water, which presses upwards, downwards, laterally, and in all directions. But the bird with its wings, and the steamer with its paddle, happy themselves to this hindrance to their progress, and overcome it. So, were not their motion obstructed, progress would be impossible.”
“The same law governs not actions only, but all definite effects whatever. If the air did not resist the vibrations of a resonant object, and strive to preserve its own form, the sound-waves could not be created, and propagated. If the tympanum of the ear did not resist those waves or sound, it would not transmit their suggestiveness to the brain. If any given object does not resist the sun’s rays, — in other words reflect them, — it will not be visible. These instances might be multiplied ad libitum, since there is literally no exception to the law. Some resistance is indispensable, although this is by no means alone indispensable, nor are all modes and kinds of resistance of equal value.”
It is not possible, the, that the hindrances which arrest our progress, and the obstacles that lie broadly in our path, are the divinest agents of help which our Creator could give us? And that “man is better cared for when he is not cared for too much”? The painful struggles to overcome and remove them develop in us strength, courage, self-reliance, and heroism. They are the hammer and chisel that rerelease the statue from the imprisoning marble, — the plow and the harrow that break up the soil, and mellow it for the reception of the seed that shall yield an abundant harvest. Perfection lies that way.
It is not difficult to see what makes our earthly life a battle. When a child is ushered into the world, he is born ignorant of everything. His health and happiness depend on his obedience to the laws of nature, of which he knows nothing, and of which he can know nothing for months and years. Some one with knowledge and experience protects him, at first, from violating laws which would injure or destroy him, and slowly he learns to care for himself. By putting his hand in the fire, he learns that fire burns. By tumbling down stairs in a heap, he takes his first lesson in gravitation, and learns to descent the stairway in an orderly fashion, in safety. It is only through stumbling and bruising and constant physical injury, that he becomes acquainted with the simplest material laws, and learns to obey them. He enters on a scene of more or less conflict as soon as he is born. To acquire any considerable self-knowledge and self-control, to understand the social environment into which he is born, with its civil, industrial, and economic laws, only intensifies the struggle and lifts the campaign to a higher warfare.
Not only is the child ignorant of himself at birth but he is entrusted to the care of parents and guardians who are woefully lacking in the same kind of knowledge. He does not come into the world with a bill of items, that state his mental and moral make-up. If we could know in advance what were his mental and moral qualities, in what direction he was richly endowed, and in what he was weak, in what part of his nature he needed to be fortified, and in what to be restrained, we might be wiser in our educational training. But in our ignrationce we put one in the shop whom nature intended for the studio, and force another through college whose tastes would have taken him to the farm and cattle-ranch, and so poorly equip both for the battle of life. We load them down with a mass of crude misinformation, which they unlearn before they have attained their majority, and throw away as useless impedimenta.
The newly-born child is not an original creature, as we sometimes assume; he is not the first of a series. Instead of this, he is one of a long series that reaches far back into a pre-historic antiquity, and there are in him hereditary tendencies, which have come down to him from progenitors of whom he never heard. And as by a general law of heredity, “the inheritance of traits of character is persistent in proposition to the length of time they have been inherited,” it is easy to account for the fact, that in members of the same family there reappear incongruities of physique and of mentality, generation after generation, which it is not easy to eradicate. Dr Oliver Wendell Holmes says, that “our bodies are vehicles in which our ancestors ride.” And he might have included our souls in this statement, without fear of contradiction.
Sometimes the child is born with a body which is only “organized disease.” It is the result of the vicious lives of his predecessors, and will hamper him in all the struggles of life. Another comes into life a wailing bundle of feebleness. He is constitutionally tired from the beginning, and the battle is sure to go against him. Others are children of vice and crime. They were mortgaged to the devil before they were born, and will become the determined foes of society, unless the wise and philanthropic can accomplish their early regeneration. Others are born with defective physiques. They lack the sense of vision, which no oculist can ever give them. Or, they are denied the sense of hearing, and are deaf alike to the tones of joy or sorrow, to the language of love or hate. Or, nature has withheld from them powers of locomotion, and they swing through life painfully, on crutches, or are wheeled in invalid chairs.
“The problem of life is indeed hard to solve,” said Harriet Martineau, the foremost literary Englishwoman of the century now closing, “when out of five sense one is endowed with but two.” She spoke from experience, for she was defrauded of the sense of taste, smell and hearing, and , in addition, was an invalid all her life. And yet, so indomitable was the royal soul imprisoned in this defective and distempered body, that she overcame all obstacles, and came off victorious in her wrestling with herself, and an adverse fate, that would have crushed a less heroic spirit. She became a benefactor of society, — one of the leaders of her age, — and not only identified herself actively with all movements for the public welfare, but at her death left nearly one hundred and fifty volumes on the shelves of the booksellers, every one of which she had written to help the world, and through every one of which there runs a high moral purpose.
During the Civil War, a man did not become a soldier of the United States army by simply entering his name in the book of the recruiting office. That only signified his willingness to serve his country. He was then conducted to the office of the examining surgeon, where he passed through a most rigorous inspection. If he was defective in vision, had lost front teeth and could not bit off the end of a cartridge, a right thumb and could not cover the vent-hole of a cannon, if he was color-blind, and could not distinguish the colors of flags, uniforms, and signal lights; if his heart was weak, or his lungs lacked soundness, that he could not keep up on the march; — if, indeed, there was any discoverable unhealthy in his physical organization, he was rejected by the inspecting officer, and could not don the blue of the Union Army. Only those whose physiques showed health, ad promised a continuity of physical force, were mustered into the service. For the warfare was to be severe and protracted, and would tax the strongest and most enduring. But of the countless host who are drafted into the battle of life, from which there is no discharge until death, fully one-half are bad equipped for the struggle by the shabby bodies into which they are born. And for that, we must ever remember, they are not to blame.
The fact that we are obliged to provide for our physical needs, and for those who are dependent upon us, makes of life a perpetual struggle. Nature has not dealt with us as with her brute children. For them, in the habitat to which they are native, there is food, water, clothing, and shelter. Everything is provided for them. But with us, nature has dealt otherwise. She has given us light to our eyes, air for our lungs, earth from which to win food, clothing and shelter, and water for our thirst. Everything else that we need or wish we must win by the hardest effort. As civilization has progressed we have lost two of our natural rights, possession of land and water, and must pay the price demanded for them. And if men by business combination could take possession of air and light, we should lose these also, and be allowed only so much air to breathe, and light for our eyes, as we were able to pay for.
In our battle for physical existence, there are times when the elements of nature seem arrayed against us. The farmer plows and harrows his fields, and with bountiful hand sows his carefully selected seed, and prophecies a harvest. But the clouds withhold their rain, the heavens become brass, and the earth iron, and a fierce drought parches the soil of a whole kingdom, and burns the growing grain to stubble, — and there is a famine. The accidental upsetting of a lamp starts a tiny fire. Combustibles feed it, winds fan it, and it becomes a roaring conflagration, in which granite and iron melt like lead, a city is consumed by the devouring flames, and hundreds of thousands are rendered homeless and helpless. We launch our proud ship into which have gone the strength of oak, the tenacity of iron, and the skillful workmanship of honorable men. We give to its transportation an argosy of wealth, and to its passengers we gladly toss a “good-by,” confident of their speedy arrival at their destination. But days pass by, then weeks and months, and no message reaches us from this traveler of the sea, and its fate is a matter of conjecture alone. Some iceberg of the North has crushed it, or it has succumbed to the fury of the tempest, or some unrevealed weakness of construction has betrayed it to destruction in mid ocean. Volcanoes and earthquakes, cyclones, storms, and tempests, — how helpless are we when overtaken by their wrath, and how heedless they are of human suffering.
When we enter the world of trade and commerce, “the business world,” to use the vernacular of the day, we find the battle of life raging fiercely. We find competition that leads one man to tread down others that he may rise on their ruin; — the financial panics, which arise decade after decade, of whose cause and cure the wisest and shrewdest are ignorant; — the business dishonesty, which at times threatens to make dishonesty and business interchangeable terms; — the insane and vulgar greed for riches that actuates corporations, monopolies, trusts, and other like organizations, whose tendency is to deprive the wage-earner of a fair share of the wealth which he helps create, that their gains may be larger and increase more rapidly — all these, and many other practices, which obtain in the money-making world, embitter the struggle for existence, and render the failure of the majority inevitable.
Only two or three weeks ago, two men in the town of my residence committed suicide on the same day, and for the same reason, — the battle went sore against them, and they could not continue the hopeless conflict longer. One had been discharged from a position that he had held for twenty-seven years, to make room for a younger man. The other had been out of employment for months, and there seemed no need of him, and no place for him in any workshop. Both were about fifty years of age, both had families that loved them, both had always been temperate and industrious men, and yet neither of them left money enough to pay his funeral expenses.
To my thinking, the business civilization of the day is antagonistic to Christianity. The essential principle of the Christian religion requires individuals, and the aggregations of individuals we call “nations,” to do as they would be done by. It proclaims the duty of strength to assist weakness; that wealth should lend a hand to the helping of poverty; that prosperity should take care of misfortune. “The Golden Rule,” said a college president, in a recent baccalaureate address, “is fundamental to all right regulations. Applied to the adjustment of the serious problems of America, they could be settled in five minutes.” Christianity has extended itself very widely in intellectual directions. It has incorporated itself in creeds, and churches, but the time has not yet come when nations are moulded by it.
It is yet to conquer the realm of trade and commerce, and to re-adjust all the relations of man with man, on the basis of human brotherhood. It will not then be possible for a million or more of men, with hungry wives and children, to beg for work, which will be refused them by millionaire employers, living in luxury. We shall not read of women and children sorting and freezing in the midst of our nation’s abundance, nor of daily suicides in our great cities, because of homelessness, lack of friends, inability to obtain work, and utter despair of any change for the better. Our papers will not drip as now with the foul accounts of business frauds and betrayal of trusts, with reports of defalcations and embezzlements, and the dishonesty of trusted officials. Armenians will not be hunted like “partridges on the mountains,” and tortured and slaughtered by Moslem hate, while all the civilized world stands idly looking on. It will then be possible for an inferior race to live comfortably amid dominant Anglo-Saxon people, with no danger of being enslaved or destroyed by them.
There is another factor that enters into the battle of life. No matter how large or small the community in which we live, — a city, a town, a village, or a hamlet, there are public questions always coming to the front, which challenge our interest. It may be a small evil that is likely to grow to a nuisance, and must be nipped in the bud. Or it may be a matter of town sanitation, a question of drainage and sewerage, the problem of a sure water supply, town lighting, or good roads, or the duty of providing for public school education, with all the weighty consideration connected with this question. If we have any public spirit in us, — and we are comparatively valueless if we are indifferent tot he public welfare, — we are compelled to throw our influence on the right side of the discussion that decide the action of the community. If it be a question of public morals, and the town is threatened with the establishment of legalized liquor saloons, gambling resort, or other public places of immorality, there is a peremptory call to all who stand for a higher civilization to enter the lists against these moral pest-houses. No fiercer battle rages in the world, than that now in progress between the friends and foes of a loftier standard of municipal and national life.
There are few of us whose inmost souls are not the arena of a life-long conflict, known only to ourselves and God. Passion and appetite, which should be the driving-wheels of the human creature, struggle for mastery of him. Selfishness, that asks all for itself; anger, that leaps like a tiger from the jungles, with the words of fury and deeds of savagery; envy and hate, that burn out fate soul and poison the life; revenue, that, like a sleuth-hound, follows the track of those who have injured us sensuality, that converts the beautiful body into a charnel houses, full of inconceivable horrors, — how this plunge us into unrest and sorrow, and abase us in our own estimation! We never recount to other the story of our conflicts with ourself. No one hears the self-reproaches we heap on our own weakness and cowardice, nor sees the tears we shed over the humiliation of our defeat. All through youth and middle life the struggle continues. Happy are we when the prolonged conflict ends in self-conquest, and we are masters of ourselves. Then have we indeed learned the lesson of life, and been taught “how divine a thing it is to suffer and be strong.”
We do not live many years in the world before we understand that every on his anchored shoulders deep in trouble and care. There is almost no exception to the statement. If, on a superficial acquaintance, we thing we have discovered that impossible personage who “has never had an ungratified wish,” and “never known a sorrow,” we are by and by undeceived; for there comes a way when the shining veil that has masked him is rent, and we behold him buffeting his way against head winds, and bearing heavy burdens, in common with the universal humanity. One would think that this knowledge would incline us to a general kindliness of spirit, and al are tolerance for each other’s peculiarities; that instead of dealing out denunciation upon the blundering and erring, we should be pitiful, and lend a helping hand to those who come in our way, weak, stumbling, and ready to perish. There is too much intentional wounding of our comrades in life. Many who are in the main charitable are yet sharp, brusque, and quick to blame one who comes to grief. Henry Ward Beecher used to say they were like “the bee that goes head-foremost into a flower for honey, but is always sure to carry a int thrust out for the pleasure of wounding.”
I remember, during the wary, going in an ambulance some twenty miles to visit field hospitals. It was not long after the battle of Murfreesboro, and a division of the army, that had encamped in the neighborhood, was soon to break camp for a march in the direction f my own route. I was ordered to move with it for safety, as guerrillas were reported very numerous along the ways. We kept beside the straggling column, that was not compelled to march with exactness, but traveled as was most comfortable. As we moved along I observed the profanity of the men. Their speech was so interlarded with oaths as to render it almost unintelligible. When the chaplain rode to my ambulance he said, “How terribly these men swear! When they meet the enemy they are in search of, there will be a battle. Think how unprepared they are to die!” At first I sympathized with the remark; and I wondered if I was not manifesting a quixotic spirit in leaving my home and pursuits for these rough scenes of disorder, amid coarse and foul-mouthed men.
But the day grew hot, and the dust became intolerable. The men began to drop, one after another, in a star of exhaustion. The ambulances picked them up till they were filled. Then here and there an officer would dismount and the fallen soldier would be lifted to his seat, with as stronger comrade behind in charge of him. When nothing else could be done, the feeble fellows were left in the shade of a club of trees, or in “the shadow of a great roc in a weary land,” with canteens of water, and supplies of rations and healthy en to care for them, who were to bring them on to the bivouac for the night, when the torrid day had grown cooler, and the wilted men had rallied. Not a man was left behind on the march to die. Not once did the officers regard the fallen soldiers with indifference, and command the marching column to leave them where they fell. And when we were bestowed in our tense for the night, and the drum had beat the tattoo for retiring, I heard the soldiers who had bene detailed to the service of their weaker comrades as they came into camp, bringing them with them.
All the while these men, to whom so much care was given, were good for nothing for soldiering purposes, and the officers and many of the rank and file knew it. If their physical condition had been understood by the examining surgeon, they would not have been mustered into the army. Their future could easily be predicted. They would be permanent fixtures in the hospital after a little time, a care to doctors and attendants, an expense to the government, dying slowly, or discharged and sent home to their kindred and friends. And yet the brotherly feeling that prevailed in the ranks forbade their being left on the march uncared for. And I said to the chaplain: “These men in the army, brought fellow thought they be, are better than we who remain at home, and never defile our lips with coarseness and profanity. We continually tread down the people who are weak, and because they cannot keep step with those who are strong, we hold them in contempt, and think them unworthy of assistance. But see the rough tenderness with which these soldiers treat the feeblest and most worthless of their number!
When you travel in Switzerland, in the neighborhood of the high mountains, you will sometimes come across a group of people in the valley, who are intently observing some object through a powerful glass. On inquiry, you will learn that a company of tourists, with guides, are making the ascent of Mount Blanc. You take your place amide the sight-seers. And while you watch the group slowly making their perilous way along the dizzy heights, two or three lose their footing, drop suddenly out of sight, and are gone. Your heart stops its beating; — you are sure they have fallen to a horrible death, down the steep, jagged rocks into the inaccessible depths below. You look again. No, they are not lost; one is restored to his place in the long line of climbers, and slowly the others struggle up into view, and cautiously they resume their upward march. What is the explanation?
Before they came to the dangerous places, they tied themselves together with strong ropes, both the tourists and the guides, and braced themselves at every step with their steel-pointed alpenstocks, which they planted firmly in the frozen snow an dice. Those who dropped down behind the treacherous ridges were held by the strength of their companions on either side, who, firmly braced, arrested their descent into the horror below, and drew them back into line, in safety. So it is in life. Many a one is saved from ruin by the wise and strong love of the friends who retain their hold upon him, and halt him in his downward plunge. They will not allow him to destroy himself, but will gradually win him back to their own safe vantage ground. And if he shall fall again, they will again interpose for his redemption, — not twice only, but again and again, as often as his tumbling feet may require. Alas, for him who has neither friend nor lover, and who is struggling for the mastery! For human nature requires so much mothering, and is so dependent on love and sympathy, that he must be of the divinest calibre who wins in the conflict of life, with none to be glad of his victory, and none who would sorrow over his defeat.
As much as we criticize the world, there is a vast amount of good in it. The transition from barbarous to civilized life has been made very gradually, by slow ascents of progress, through thousands of years. Every advance of the race in the mastery of the material world has been accompanied by a corresponding development of intellectual power, and the conquest of man by himself. Then came a comprehension of right and wrong, and a moral standard was uplifted, which has bene immeasurably advanced during the last century. It has come at last to include the golden rule, which is as fundamental in the world of duty and happiness, as is Newton’s law of gravitation in the world of matter. It has organized our charities, enlarged our system of education, abolished slavery, infused itself into society, it seeks the extinction of war, and calls for the elimination of public abuses, and the purification of government. It will yet relieve the battle of life of its hardness, its hopelessness, and its brutality.
We are approaching the era when war shall be no more. The world is ready for it. Unconsciously , and unintentionally, the powers that be have been preparing for it. For they have increased the destructive power of the enginery of war so marvelously, that the nations employing it against each other will both suffer almost irreparable injury. When a handful of men can blow up a navy, and another handful can annihilate an army, war ceases to be war, and becomes assassination. If we should wake to-morrow to find that all civilized nations had agreed to arbitrate their quarrels, that all armies were to be disbanded, all fortifications to be dismantled, and the giant battle-ships transformed into vessels for peaceful uses, how much the world would gain by the change!
Ten million of soldiers, in European camps, or in readiness for war, now withdrawn from productive industries, would be returned to their families, and to the farms and workshops of the world. The women of Europe, now dewomaized and dehumanized by being thrust into the employments of men unsuitable for them, would drop back into home life, or would seek their livelihood in occupations that would not destroy their feminine nature. The prophecy of two thousand years ago that there should be “peace on earth and good-will to men” would begin to be verified. Between two and three billions of dollars, now wrung annually from the people by exorbitant taxation, for the support of armies, and for military purposes, would not then be called for, and would increase the resources of the masses, and add to their material comforts. How the certainty that war had ceased forever would loosen the brakes now held down on the wheels of the world’s progress!
If we should wake on some other morning to find that every grog shop in the country was closed forever, that all distilleries and breweries had abandoned the manufacture of alcoholic liquors for drinking purposes, that men had lost the appetite for intoxicating beverages, and would henceforth be sober and in their right minds, how that would add to the gains of the world! The American nation would be richer at the close of every year than it now is, by nine hundred million dollars, which is the sum total of its annual drink bill. With that vast sum saved, how the comfort of the boiling masses could be increased. Their poverty would be translated to competence, their homes made hygienic and comfortable, industrial and scientific schools established for them, and the immitigable sorrows of their wives and children would be comforted. The prisons and penitentiaries of the present time would be relieved of three-fifths, and in many cases, of four-firths of their inmates, the insane asylums would be depleted, and fewer children would come into life with defective minds and bodies.
If these two reforms were carried, — the peace reform and the temperance reform, — the world would take a mighty leap forward into “the good time coming.” They will probably never eventuate as we have planned them, nor accomplish just what we anticipate, but they will prove an immense gain to the race, and will eliminate from the battle of life many of its worst and most dreaded features. Believe me, both of these reforms are coming up the steeps of time, and are yet to be verities. Some of you will live to behind the near approach of their full fruition, and will catch the fore gleam of the glory of the Lord as it breaks on the world. Whoever works for the bettering of humanity, for the lessening of the evil things in life, and the increase of what is good and helpful has his hand in the hand of God, and takes on something of God’s almightiness. Those who work with God will always win, and though victory may be postponed for a time, the right ultimately triumphs.
Already the distinguishing characteristic of our nineteenth century civilization is its intense humaneness. It looks steadily to the redressing of all wrongs, to the righting of every form of error and injustice, and an intense and prying philanthropy, which is almost omniscient, is one of the marked features of the age. It has multiplied charitable institutions till they cover almost every form of suffering and want, and it gives to the poor the tonic of friendship and hope. It demands that international arbitration shall take the place of war, and reiterates the immortal declaration of Charles Sumner, that “that the true grandeur of nations is peace.” It bombards the legal enactments that make for drunkenness with million-voiced petitions, and pursues the inebriate with kind and loving persuasion. It hears the demand of Howard, the philanthropist, sounding down the century, and re-formulates his plea that “prisons be made over into moral reformatories, — schools for fallen humanity.”
Not only does the spirit of helpfulness invade the realm of material want and suffering, it enters the list against ignorance and mental poverty. It not only establishes schools for children, but for adults also, who were defrauded of education in early life. It has opened colleges and universities to women which have been closed to them through all ages, and has provided for them professional and technical schools, where they compete with men. The doors of art and science, of professions and trades, and of industries and gainful callings are no longer closed against them, and they are resign from the ranks of dependence and subjection, into those of dignified self-support. It seeks the education of the hand and of the body in its provisions for physical culture and manual training. It establishes free libraries for the people, art museums, natural history rooms, free reading rooms, free lectures, open-air concerts, free baths and swimming schools, and free parks, where nature ministers to the distermpered and desponding. There are noble men and women in all communities who thrill with a divine passion to help the world; and there are millionaires who dare not die, till they have put a portion of their wealth to the service of the public welfare.
This new spirit of helpfulness which is making itself felt in the world is not limited to any community or nation. It is extending itself throughout civilized life. A few years since, and shortly after the close of the civil war, Memphis was sorely smitten with a pestilence. The living were not sufficient to care for the sick, nor to bury the dead, and all egress from the city was forbidden lest the contagion might spread. The North forgot the four years’ war with the embattled South, and sent to its relief volunteer physicians and nurses who were unafraid of death, and millions of money, and Memphis was purified and rehabilitated, and the pestilence stamped out.
Floods washed away the city of Johnstown and buried thousands of its inhabitants under the débris. Hardly had the waters subsided, when a great tide of benevolence set towards the ruined town. Relief committees were despatched to the suffering people, to whom carte blanche was given as to methods and means. Hospitals were opened for the wounded, and those whom fright and loss of home and friends had demented. And so abundant was the largess bestowed on those who survived the horror of the flood, that a new city has risen on the wreck of the old one, and except in the memories of those who experienced its ruin, no traces of it remain.
Have we forgotten when Chicago lay burning in a roaring conflagration, that stretched seven miles along the lake shore, while a hundred thousand of her people were encamped on the shelterless prairie? Telegrams flashed the sad news to every state and territory of the nation, and cablegrams wailed it to the old world, when lo, the marvel! The astonished earth rolled on its axis, belted and re-belted with telegrams and cablegrams promising help. So royally were these promises kept, that after those who had applied for relief had received it, and the Relief Committee had placarded the streets for three months with the information that there was aid for those who needed it, there remained in bank nearly a million and a half of the relief funds, in excess of applications for help. The world could not have afforded to have missed the conflagration of Chicago. It was the greatest investment ever made by disaster, for it burned two hundred millions of poverty into ashes. But it was a poor, cheap, paltry price to pay for the great knowledge that made the world rich. For when Chicago was melting away in the heat of its great conflagration, we touched the hour when all the world believed in human brotherhood.
These instances are indications of the better day that is dawning. As when in the east we see the first faint fingers of light brightening the horizon, we foretell the coming day, so can we predict a higher and nobler civilization that shall yet include the race, when we see what divineness has here and there interpenetrated the last half century. I am not prophesying any quick-coming millennium. It has taken God a millennium of millenniums to bring us where we are; and He need not be in a hurry, as He has all eternity to work in. I only speak as one
“Who, rowing hard against the stream,
Sees distant gates of Eden gleam,
And does not deem it all a dream.”
But as I count over the gains of the world in the past, and see how the mightiest forces of the age are moral, and realize that the Immanent God who works for righteousness is the unseen Commander who directs the battle of life, I am sure that —
In the long days of God,
In the world’s paths untrod,
The world will yet be led
Its heart be comforted.
“Others may sing the song,
Others will right the wrong, —
Finish what we begin,
And all we fail of, win.
“The airs of heaven blow o’er us,
And visions rise before us,
Of what mankind will be, —
Pure, generous, grand, and free.
“Then ring, bells, in unread steeples,
The joy of unborn peoples;
Sound, trumpets, far-off blown,—
Your triumph is our own.”
Source: The story of my life: or, The Sunshine and Shadow of Seventy Years by Mary A. Livermore, Teacher, Author, Wife, Mother, Army Nurse, Soldier’s Friend, Lecturer and Reformer. A Narrative of Her Early Life and Struggles for Education, Three Years’ Experience on a Southern Plantation Among White Masters and Black Slaves, Her Courtship, Marriage, Domestic Life, Etc, with hitherto unrecorded incidents and recollections of three years’ experience as an army nurse in the great Civil War, and reminiscences of twenty-five years’ experiences on the lecture platform, including thrilling, pathetic, and humorous incidents of platform life, to which is added six of her most popular lectures, superbly illustrated with portraits and one hundred and twenty engravings from designs by eminent artists made expressly for this work. (Hartford, Conn: A.D. Worthington & Co.), 1897, pp. 677-697.
Also: Modern Eloquence: Library of After-Dinner Speeches, Lectures, Occasional addresses, Vol. V, Lectures F-M., ed. Thomas B. Reed, Justin McCarthy, Rossiter Johnson, Albert Ellery Bergh, (Philadelphia: John D. Morris and Company) 1900, pp. 738-757.