I have anointed my king upon the hill of holiness. -Hebrew Poet.
For naturalist and moralist alike one topic never looses its interest,the struggle of the best for supremacy. The apostles of evolution consider this as one of the chief factors of all progress. By many attempts, new adaptations, transmisson of tendencies,the eye adjusting itself to light, the ear to sound, the brain to thought,the stairway by which life ascends was slowly constructed. From the beginning, nature seems to have had one end in view,to make a better form in which to house her thought and love and beauty. At whatever cost of time and pains and material she was determined that the best should ultimately rule. In accordance with this plan humanity at last appeared.
It is at this point the students and lovers of morals become deeply interested. They trust that there is more order and a more presistent purpose in the course of affairs than appears upon their confused surface. In the founding and falling of empires, in the mixing of races, in the growth and decay of arts, in the coming and going of philosophies and religions, they think some definite object is kept in sight. Through the stormy passions and serene hopes which, in turn, claim possession of the human bosom, a steady current of tendency may be detected setting toward benefit. Beneath the jarring discords a presistent harmony is heard. Many repose in the faith that, as the creative Providence produced man as body and then man as soul, the process will be continued in the direction of still finer results. In spite of all hindrances nature will finally anoint and crown the rightful king. This done, the work of earth will be complete. There are many things to indicate that this ardent faith is not baseless.
The history of the race, like the history of the globe, is a record of the changes wrought in the different strata. Among the rocks composing the crust of the earth there are signs of many catastrophes. Gigantic forces have been at work;forces that bent the granite beams as easily as the hand bends a branch of willow. They tossed up Alps and Andes as if they were grains of sand. They severed islands from the parent continent, dug new channels for the rivers, and hollowed out new beds for the oceans. The remains of civilization present a similar spectacle. Human history, no less than geology, has an abundance of fossils. There are signs of many perished races. Resistless forces have been present and fully active. Nations have been lifted and lowered at will. Thrones have been tossed about as if they were light as dust. An order of nobles has been exalted and then hurled down from its high estate. New channels for thought have been cut through mountainous obstructions. As when the northern tribes overran Italy or the Normans invaded England or the American Republic was founded, in a single century the whole political and social order of affairs has sometimes been transformed. There are historic as well as geologic epochs and their influence is no less far-reaching.
Students of geology can give the quality of life which was most prominent at any given stage of earth’s history. When they pronounce the word Silurian they designate an age when the mollusks were in the ascendent. The aristocracy of that period was composed of crinoids and trilobites. The term Devonian suggests that another form of life had become prominent. – Fishes and reptiles were the nobility. Only those creatures possessing a spinal column were admitted to good society.
Passing into human history similar changes and gradations appear. When the word monarchy or oligarchy is pronounced, there rises a picture of one or a few persons holding all the power. The term aristocracy suggests that the best are rulers. When the word democracy is uttered another scene is unveil-ed. In this the people are the sovereign. Theoretic-ally there is equality. Each one has the same device emblazoned on his coat of arms. But this is much more a theory than an actual condition. Whether found in Turkey, under the name of absolute monarchy, in England as a constitutional monarchy, or in the United States as a Republic, government is concentrated in a few members of society. There is no such thing as equality. All may have equal rights, but all have not equal opportunity and equal power. There is always a governing class. The main concern is which class it shall be. Upon that everything depends. If statesmen and orators and artists are the upper strata, the age of Pericles or Augustus is the result. If, as in the days of Frederick or Napoleon, the military class is in the ascendent, a different result will ensue. In such a period the fields remain uncultivated; the treasury is depleted; the value of life is cheapened; vice increases; and homes are desolated and saddened. In an era of hierarchy, when the priestly class are in power, there will be commercial stagnation; neglect of secular affairs; decline of ration-al education; and abundance of superstition. If the commercial class become the dominant power, the character of the age will gradually conform to their standard. Everything will become marketable. Wars of conquest will be waged for the sole purpose of ex-tending trade. National chivalry and good name will be bartered for financial gain. The bargaining passion pervades all life, corrupting holy things. Patriotism, literature, and religion are valuable only as collateral and merchantable commodities. Thus the character of an age or a nation is determined by its governing class.
It becomes an important question, then, who shall govern. Shall they with great resources of physical force issue commands to all the rest of mankind? Shall those with colossal income ? Shall those who, by birth, are descended from royalty ? History asks us to look at that little group of fishermen and tent-makers in the first century. They were without material power. It points to a manger in Judea; to a miner’s hut in Germany; to a log cabin in Kentucky. Thence have come those who have ruled. Not material force nor landed estate nor income by trade or commerce nor high birth, but character is the only basis for a true aristocracy.
Doubtless an artificial heraldry is foolish; but there is a natural heraldry that cannot be despised. There are many grades of human character. Humanity cannot be divided into best and worst, for there are many persons between these two classes. Carlyle’s classification of “forty millions, mostly fools” is a piece of rhetorical extravagance. Between the fool and the philosopher there are as many degrees of intellectual merit as there are colors in a rainbow. There is a sliding scale of excellence. As in the world be-low humanity, so in the human race the types are sometimes mixed. The lines of separation are not always clearly drawn. It is sometimes difficult to find the exact division between the animal and the vegetable kingdoms. So, in the human world, it is not always easy to know where the brute stops and man begins. There are types of humanity that seem to be the remains of one age holding over into another. There are persons who walk on two feet and can talk; but the chimpanzee or the tiger nature is constantly breaking through the thin disguise.
Caste in India, but there is caste everywhere. Have we not all met Brahmans and Sudras ? Of what avail is it to announce equality ? Here in America, where we advertise it most, it does not exist. Declaration of Independence, Fifteenth Amendment, and Civil Rights Bill are practically powerless. We are not now thinking of color lines, or “previous condition of servitude.” There are other barriers that are quite as insurmountable. There are grades in the soul. The walls separating classes in pagan lands are no harder to break through than some of those which, without any written statute or traditional usage, exist between persons living on the same street or even in the same house. There are some who are Templars by nature; and, however fine may be our form, how-ever great our facility for learning rites and passwords and the meaning of symbols, it avails us nothing. We cannot take their degree.
Those who are worthy of decoration are not very numerous, but we have encountered some who are in the ranks of nobility. They did not trace their origin to William the Conqueror nor the Mayflower Emigrants nor the Virginia Cavaliers; but this misfortune was not visible in their lives. Descendants of no eminent person, yet there was royal blood in their veins. They are, perhaps, not descendants; they are ascend-ants. They may be the beginning and not the ending of a noble line. At least they need no guaranty from ancestors to give them standing. Their rank proclaims itself without the need of decoration and insignia. Of the fair form encountered by the Trojan exiles the Poet says:
“By her gait the Goddess was revealed.”
So there are those whose simplest actions proclaim their inborn nobility. What they seem to be, they really are. These are the sovereigns whom God anoints.
In nature’ s aristocracy wealth or poverty, high or humble birth plays no part. Of course wealth is no bar to nobility of character and high birth may be associated with high personal qualities. All that need be claimed is that they are not essential. The only thing necessary to qualify one for admission to the ranks of true nobility is character. Birth and inherited position are not enough. Neither is mere talent for success without regard to the means employed. Neither is a weak and fitful admiration for the right with no energy to accomplish it. Those who are vain and are charmed by superficial things, who love titles and spangles and mock heroics are not eligible to the true order of nobility. Much more are those who, conditioned alone in sense, driven by base instinct and fit only to hold fellowship with brutes, unworthy of membership in the ranks of earth’s true peerage.
True heraldry does not consist in anything external. Orders may make mistakes in conferring degrees. A fool may be knighted. The weak, the insane have sometimes sat on thrones. Not every man who has academic titles attached to his name is a scholar. Not every man who is called General has been a hero and won his rank on the tented field. Some of them are merely impertinent upstarts and some are criminals. Not every Congressman or Senator is a high-minded patriot. Some of them are only small and cunning politicians.
By the legends which have clustered around the names of heroes something may be known of their true personality. Saul was a head taller than his companions. Hercules could turn the course of rivers.
Samson could carry off iron gates single handed, slay lions, and lift stone temples from their foundations. Paul could defy the elements and shake vipers from his hand without suffering hurt. Arthur wrested the sword, Excalibur, from the rock in which it was imbedded after two hundred barons had tried in vain to deliver it; and when Siegfried needed a weapon he drew one from the heart of the oak. Ulysses could master monsters and Richard could sever an iron bar with one stroke of his sword.
Thus always those who are fitted to rule are masters of events. They are collected and self-poised. They are superior to fluctuations of opinions. They count friend and foe alike helpful to them and are indifferent both to slander and flattery.
“Winds blow and waters roll
Strength to the brave, and power and deity,
Yet in themselves are nothing.”
The real nobility never come in crowds. There are many pretenders to the throne, but they are that which the epithet signifies;they are pretenders. An Englishman gave this advice to a friend: “If you wish to be thought great, pretend you are great.” There are some who take this counsel, but not many are deceived thereby. The really great need no pretense; and no amount of pretense will make the small really great. We finally pass for what we are worth.
Because the great are in the minority many centuries must be reviewed to find conspicuous examples of any notable quality. We speak of Plato and Emerson in one breath, as if they are near together, but more than twenty centuries roll their floods between them. It is thus with Homer and Shakespeare; with Paul and Marquette; with Cato and Washington. Between the stars, seemingly near neighbors, uncharted spaces lie. So in the vast firmament of time the names of the great are sparsely sown.
Elections go by majorities; but that is only the last step and is merely a surface indication of that which actually occurs. The order of things seems to be that of a few minds appearing with some better, but peculiar truth. At first it is ridiculed; then it is hated; then it is persecuted; Then, long after those who first held it are dead, it becomes the idol of the multitude. It is made into a law; and the names of those who first proposed it are placed in the Saints Calendar. The multitude finally enjoys the good which, at first, could only find room in a few hearts.
“For Humanity sweeps onward:
Where today the martyr stands,
On the morrow crouches Judas
With the silver in his hands;
Far in front the cross stands ready
And the crackling fagots burn,
While the hooting mob of yesterday
In silent awe return
To glean up the scattered ashes
Into History’s sacred urn.”
Only natures aristocracy is interesting. They once tried to make the most capable into nobles and princes; but, in time, nature places above them nobler and kinglier men. What signifies armies of retainers, pedigrees, lace and tinsel in presence of Galileo and Newton and Darwin ? How ridiculous, with his hired armies, was George Third when compared with Watt and his engine! Quality is of more account than quantity. It is the seven or the seven thousand who maintain their integrity and bend the knee to no Baal of convenience or opportunism or unholy force who save a nation. It was the few young men who were pure of purpose that gave prowess to the Thundering Legion. Of Sir Galahad we read:
“My strength is as the strength of ten,
Because my heart is pure.”
Europe was in the opposite balance, but the persistent courage of a Genoese sailor outweighed it all. Caesar was emperor of Asia Minor, but a few men with spiritual ideals outranked him in real power.
What are the badges of true nobility ? What are they but loyalty to truth and incorruptible purity of purpose ? In one of the factional wars for the English throne the white and the red roses were used as party badges. In an interview between the rival claimants the playwriter represents Plantaganet as saying to the assembled company of nobles:
“Let him that is a true born gentleman,
And stands upon the honor of his birth,
If he suppose that I have pleaded truth,
From off this brier pluck a white rose with me.”
“Let him that is no coward nor no flatterer,
But dare maintain the party of the truth,
Pluck a red rose from off this thorn with me.”
He who would be ranked with nature’s nobility will pluck both roses. He will wear over his heart the red blossom of courage and the white blossom of purity.
There was once an order of knights founded on a basis of piety and bravery. Within a limited field they were the champions of virtue and weakness. A similar order is needed in every age. There are al-ways wrongs to be punished. The mythical giants have disappeared, but the real giants of fraud and intemperance and impurity have appeared in great force. Now there are no dungeoned castles nor monster haunted caves to be stormed to liberate imprisoned maidens. The order of things has changed. But enemies of purity are still present. There are laws enacted against those monsters who prey on society, but they are largely ineffective. We have need of a hundred thousand noble citizens who will see that the laws are enforced. The myth of Proserpina should be turned into history. Into history, indeed, but the fact should surpass the fiction. For, whereas that maiden could only leave Pluto’s dark realm for half the year, the rescue of these actual women must be more complete. For all the year and for all the years they must be permitted to walk in safety among the flowers and sunbeams.
The kind of nobility our earth most needs is, not an order founded by Arthur or Richard or Roland or Solomon, but one founded by the soul’s ideals. It will not care for illustrous ancestors; and will have a noble disregard for Bradstreet in the financial and for Blue Book in the social world. It will not make an idol of mere power nor glorify a so called military exploit composed of equal parts of daring and treachery. It will love personal bravery, but will find only a small part of it in the actions of armies and navies. It will find worthy examples of it there; but it will find them also at life saving stations; find them where firemen are fearlessly meeting danger to save, instead of destroy life and property; find them where trains are rushing through the darkness; find them in sick rooms and hospitals where physicians and nurses are con-fronted by contagion; find them where young women sweep to one side much that is dear to life and, with-out complaining, toil to keep want away from the home; find them where young men are battling with poverty for the sake of an education and battling with temptation for the sake of an honorable career. Those who believe in the strenuous life are not the only patriots and heroes. Army promotions are not the only path to enduring honor. There is an order of heraldry whose motive is, not conquest by physical force, but by education and love. Their weapons are intellectual and moral. Their aim is a nobler humanity. O that their numbers may be so increased by enlistments from the young men of each succeeding generation that they will become all conquering!
The poem furnishing the theme contains the statement that the same fate awaits all mankind. Thus run the familiar lines:
“The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power,
And all that beauty, all that wealth e’er gave,
Await alike the inevitable hour;
The paths of glory lead but to the grave.
Very true, O Poet! But there is a difference in the paths themselves. It is for mortals to choose whether, when the end is reached, they will look back over a noble or a shameful past. Like all others, those whose heraldry is founded on character, whose power is guided by benevolence, whose beauty is a badge of virtue, and whose wealth ministers to human happiness will, indeed, in the end find a grave. But as the path leading thither has no dishonor, the grave itself can have no terror. Not only so; for unless the hopes and auguries of a thousand generations are all at fault, the path leads to, but does not halt at a little mound of clay. Passing onward it disappears among the sun-lit hills.