Tithon and Aurora by Herder

Not to mislead, therefore, with this abused word, and not to make destructive violence a medicine for mortal ills, we will keep the path of healing Nature. Not Revolutions, but Evolutions are the silent process of the great mother, wherewith she awakens slumbering powers, brings germs to maturity, gives renewed youth to premature age, and new life to seeming death. Let us see what this remedy comprehends, and how it heals.

Tithon and Aurora
By Johann Gottfried Herder 1744-1803

Although, in general, no epitaph or panegyric uses to notice how long a man has outlived himself, yet is this one of the most remarkable and not infrequent phenomena in the history of human lives. The earlier the play of the faculties and passions begins, the more impetuously it is continued, and assailed in various ways by external accident, the oftener shall one discover cases of that early exhaustion of the soul, — of the warrior laid prostrate without death or wound, — of a manly, and, often even, of a youthful extreme age. A man may go about for a long while, with a living body, like the image of his own funeral monument; his spirit gone from him, — a shadow and a memory of his former name. Many causes may contribute to his early death: qualities of mind and heart, too great activity and too sluggish patience, relaxation as well as over-tension, too rapid prosperity and too protracted adversity. For it is a general truth, that health, cheerfulness, pleasure, and virtue, are ever the medium between two extremes. Either on the precipitous or the shallow shore of the stream, the vessel may be wrecked. In the middle, it is easy and pleasant sailing.

Johann Gottfried Herder was an important Enlightenment author. He said “not revolution but evolution” in this work and noted that people and institutions “outlive themselves.”

Many a one has grown old because he wanted the true interior source of activity. He was a brook that contracts its waters into itself and soon dries up and shows its melancholy bed. This one endeavoured to make seeming supply the place of being. The darkness passed away, and the glow-worms in the hair glittered as sparkling diamonds no longer. That one would accomplish by toil and memory, what intelligence and genius alone can perform. The overloaded memory gave way, excessive labor tired, and the want of the essential was at last painfully apparent.

Another, while a youth, overstrained his nobler powers; he piled up mountains of imagination to the skies, and soon, without the lightning of Jupiter, found under them his grave. Still another, whose learning and effort had no object but his own ease, abandoned learning and effort as soon as he had obtained that ease and buried himself in a blessed decay. Here, one, without desert, has had his brain turned by an unexpected prosperity, a too rapidly acquired fame, an unlooked for success in action. He has no longer any thought beyond this success. His seductive goddess, Fortune, has crowned him at once with laurel, with poplar, and with poppy. He falls asleep or babbles nonsense in her enervating lap. There, one of great merit has suffered too long with undeserved misfortune, until his shoulders are bowed, his breast contracted, his arm paralysed, and he can no longer stand erect and recruit himself. A thunderbolt from heaven has stricken the oak even to its root and deprived it of the power of life.

To this one — a man of manifold capacity — there was wanting a capacious breast to despise envy and to wait for better times. He suffered himself to be drawn into conflict with it, and the flying eagle was unworthily vanquished by the viper that held him in her folds. That one, — a man of honest industry, — was wanting in intelligence. His more cunning enemies soon made him powerless and wretched. And thus it befell ten other characters, in other situations. Hard by the theatre of civil life, there is generally a hospital, and in that the greater part of the actors gradually lose themselves.

Two things especially contribute to this result, and they, too, are extremes. In the first place, the arbitrariness of the ruling great; and, secondly, a too refined delicacy and carefulness. As to the former, it is a well-known and favorite saying, that nothing is so troublesome as gratitude, nothing so insupportable as continued respect and the daily spectacle of acknowledged merit. Accordingly, new favor purchases for itself new gratitude; and creatures whom the great purposely attract to themselves, — in whom they even pretend to find gifts and merits which the gods never gave them, — have, for them, a peculiar charm, as their own creation. The sap is withdrawn from the old trees that the young world may bloom and thrive. Whoso, in such cases, is not greater than he on whom he depends, dies inwardly with self-consuming vexation. The majestic voice of Philip the second.  “Yo el Rey” has slain many a one of this description. Opposed to this murder of human merits and powers, there is another, which may be termed the most refined species of self-murder. It is the more to be lamented because it occurs only in the case of the most elect of men; suddenly or gradually breaking in pieces their costly mechanism.

Men of extreme delicacy of feeling have a ‘Highest’ after which they strive, — an idea to which they attach themselves with unspeakable longing, — an ideal perfection which they pursue with irresistible impulse. When deprived of this idea, when this fair image is destroyed before their eyes, the heart of their flower is broken, and feeble, withered leaves alone remain. Perhaps, more of the dead of this description go about in society, than one might at first suppose, because they, of all men, most carefully conceal their grief, and hide even from their friend the slow poison of their death, — that sad secret of the heart. Shakespeare, who depicted all conditions of the soul, has delineated, also, this epoch of the sinking or confusion of the faculties, in various situations and characters, with great truth and exactness. One, — perhaps the crown of lamentations over such a state, — may serve as an example of all.

O! What a noble mind is here o’erthrown!
The courtier’s, soldier’s, scholar’s eye, tongue, sword,
The expectancy and rose of the fair State,
The glass of fashion and the mould of form,
The observed of all observers! quite, quite down!
Now see that noble and most sovereign reason,
Like sweet bells jangled, out of tune and harsh;
That unmatched form and stature of blown youth,
Blasted with extasy.

Not only individual persons outlive themselves, but much oftener and longer, those politico-moral persons, so called, — institutions, forms of polity, classes, corporations. Often, their body remains, for centuries, as a show, when the soul of that body has long since fled; or they creep about as shadows among living forms. To be convinced of this, let any one enter a Jewish synagogue, or read Anquetils Zend-Avesta, and the sacred books of the Brahmins. There is no doubt that all these religious institutions were once very useful, and that, in every one of these hulls, lay the germs of a great development. Time has developed each of them more or less, —one happily, so that we are disposed perhaps to look for more in it than was there; another imperfectly and feeble; as in the great course of Nature it will fall out. Nevertheless, everything has its goal, and the Rabbi, the Destur, the Mobed, — perhaps also the Brahmin, — has, in the great whole, outlived himself. In some regions of Mahommedanism, something similar is already reported of the Koran, although that is the youngest of bibles. And in Christendom, true as its pure fountain streams, with the water of eternal life, how many a vessel is already broken that was thought to have exhausted this fountain! How many a form which still stands there, had long ago outlived itself! Look at the Romish Mass! Listen to many of their litanies and prayers! Into what times do they take us back! What a strange savor of long-perished ages! As, in Religion, the priestly order, so in other institutions the orders connected with them follow each its living or its dead.

Consider so many institutions and orders of the middle ages! Where they could not follow the Genius of opinion and renew their youth with him, they either remained stationary on the shore or else the stream bore them lifeless on, until they found somewhere their place of rest. Even in Cervantes’ days the Duke of Bejar would not allow that Don Quixote should be dedicated to him, so long as he supposed it to be a serious book of knight-errantry; because the taste for such things had already begun to be ridiculous. He accepted the Dedication gladly when, as the book was read to him, he discovered its true character. Time has enacted novels of this kind with several institutions. The princes and heroes of Corneille are for the most part insupportable to us, and we wonder how other times could ever put together, believe and admire such nonsense. Shakespeare’s court-scenes seem to us like Capital and State acts. The knights of our day are no longer of the ancient order; and that kingly word of Louis XIV. : “L’Etat c’est moi!”‘ will ever remain the appropriate epitaph of that great world-monarch.

“Whatsoever had a birth must die,” says the Brahmin; and that, which seeks to defer its downfall by artificial methods, in resorting to such methods, has already outlived itself. In the early spring, the foliage and grass of the former year are often still visible; much of it has retained its place; but, in a short time, the whole is vanished, and a new raiment covers the trees and the bosom of the earth.

If there is anything in the circle of Humanity which ought not to outlive itself, it is Science and Art. The nature of these is eternal, and they are capable of the purest truth and of infinite extension. And indeed the real essence of Art and Science never dies, never changes. But their forms are all the more perishable, as they appear, above all things, to depend on their masters and discoverers, — to originate, to flourish, and to perish with them. So long as the discoverer lives, so long as the master teaches and directs, men draw living thoughts from his living fountain. In the second and third generation, one already wanders through schools that echo and ape him. The image of the master stands there dead. His science and his art has outlived itself, not in his own, but in his successors’ works.

Travels give us a long catalogue of things which have thus outlived themselves. Travels in the history, as well as in the actual inspection of regions, countries, institutions, persons, classes. Who that enters an ancient castle, an old-fashioned knightly hall, an archive of old diplomas and treaties, of old arms and decorations , old court-houses, churches, convents, palaces and imperial cities, does not feel himself translated into a perished century? In a tour through Germany, one often finds, within a circle of a few miles, the ancient, the middle, the modern and most modern ages together. Here, we breathe still the air of the twelfth century; there, we hear the melodies of the sixteenth, the tenth, the fourth. All at once, you enter cabinets which have been instituted under the luxurious Ducal Government, — galleries collected under Louis XIV., and end with institutions which seem to have been devised for the twentieth century. Instructive as this chaos may be for the traveller, it would be very confusing and oppressive for the resident, did not human nature accustom itself to all things. “Lord, by this time he stinketh, for he hath been dead four days;” said the sorrowing sister; one might say, with regard to many institutions, four centuries, and still they are not offensive to their brothers and sisters. These are accustomed to the odor, and find it nourishing.

Italy seems to me the most instructive theatre of these life-epochs and world-ages. There, you can be with Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Etruscans, nay, if you please, with Chineses, with Hindoos, and with the people of Madagascar! In Rome, alone, you may follow Paganism from Romulus to Diocletian, and Christianity from Constantine to Pius. There, and in the Italian provinces, you may live at pleasure in the fifteenth, the sixteenth, or the eighteenth century. And if you investigate the monuments of Nature, you will come upon self-survivals which will take you beyond the bounds of history. It requires a capacious mind to embrace, to distinguish, to classify all these scenes. But, to such a mind, they exhibit a compend of all history, which floods us, at last, with, I know not, what pleasing but dissolving melancholy.

The cloud-capt towers, & &.
As dreams are made of, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
Enough of sleep and of dying out!
Let us now speak of waking and rejuvenescence!
How is this brought about?
By Revolution?

I confess that, among the misused words of our modern, fashionable vocabulary, few are so displeasing to me as this; because it has entirely departed from its original, pure signification, and carries with it the most mischievous confusion of thought. In astronomy, we call revolution a movement of the great world-bodies which returns into itself, — determined by measure, number and forces; a movement, which is not only the most peaceful order in itself, but, in connection with other harmonious powers, establishes the kingdom of eternal order.

Thus the earth revolves around itself and makes day and night, and by means of these, arranges and regulates the sleep and the waking of its creatures, their time for rest and the circle of their occupations. Thus the earth moves around the sun and makes the year, and by means of that, the seasons, and by means of them, the changes of labour and of mortal enjoyment. The revolution of the moon around our earth gives to the sea its ebb and flood, determines the periods of diseases, and perhaps, of the growth of plants. In this sense it is useful to notice revolutions; for, in them, we observe a course of affairs which returns into itself, and, in that course of things, the laws of a perpetual order.

In such a course there is nothing abrupt, arbitrary, without reason. There is nothing of destruction in it, but a gently vibrating thread of conservation. Revolutions of this kind are the dance of the Hours around the throne of Jupiter. They are the chaplet of victory on the immortal head of the god, after the conquest of chaos.

Also, if we draw down this idea of Revolution from heaven to earth, it can be no other than the idea of a silent progress of things, of a reappearance of certain phenomena, according to their peculiar nature, consequently, of the design of an ever-working Wisdom, Order and Goodness. In this sense, we speak of the revolutions of arts and sciences, that is, a periodical return of them, the causes of which, we endeavor to investigate in history, and, as it were, to calculate astronomically. Thus the Pythagoreans spoke of the revolutions of the human soul, that is, of its periodical return into other forms. Thus have men investigated the laws of the revolution of human thoughts; when they return from oblivion into remembrance; when visions and desires, when activities and passions which had gone to sleep, reappear once more. In all these things, it has been attempted to discover the laws of a hidden, silent order of Nature.

But the meaning of this word has undergone a detestable change, because, in the barbarous centuries, men knew of no other revolutions than conquests, overturns, oppressions, confusions without motive, aim or order. Then it was called revolution, when the nethermost was made uppermost, — when, by the so-called right of war, a nation lost more or less of its property, its laws, its goods; or when, by the right of monarchy, all those so-called rights were enforced, which St. Thomas, Machiavel and Naude afterwards collected from actual events and brought together in one chapter. Then, finally, it was called a revolution, when the ministers did what the rulers themselves would not do; or when, here and there, the People undertook that which they could rarely execute so well as kings or ministers. Hence the numerous Histoires des Revolutions, — a kind of book whose title is all the more popular, that its contents are, for the most part, unintelligible or abominable. The notion of an aim or object was almost lost sight of. History became an exhibition of entanglements without a denouement. For, after the conclusion of each revolution, so called, the confusion, in the kingdoms where they occurred, was greater than before.

Revolutions of this sort, whencesoever they may derive their origin, are signs of barbarism, of an insolent force, of a mad willfulness. The more reason and moderation increase among men, the rarer they will become, until, at last, they entirely disappear. Then the word Revolution will revert to its pure and true meaning. Then it will mean, in history also as elsewhere, a course of things arranged according to laws, — a course of events which peacefully returns into itself. In this view alone is history worth the study; for, as to the revolutions of wild elephants, when they tear up trees and devastate villages, — from these there is not much to be learned.

Not to mislead, therefore, with this abused word, and not to make destructive violence a medicine for mortal ills, we will keep the path of healing Nature. Not Revolutions, but Evolutions are the silent process of the great mother, wherewith she awakens slumbering powers, brings germs to maturity, gives renewed youth to premature age, and new life to seeming death. Let us see what this remedy comprehends, and how it heals.

If we suppose Nature to have an aim on the earth, that aim can be no other than the development of her powers in all forms, kinds and ways. These evolutions proceed slowly, often imperceptibly; and, for the most part, they appear periodically. After a night of sleep, follows a morning of awakening. Under the shade of the former, Nature had re-collected her powers, in order to meet the latter with spirit. In the ages of man, childhood continues long; body and mind advance with a slow growth, until, with collected energies, the flower of youth breaks forth, and the fruit of later years comes gradually to maturity. Very improperly have these periods of development been called revolutions.

There is nothing here that revolves, but faculties are evolved, developed. Ever, the more recondite and deeper-lying come forth to view, which, without many a preceding one, could not have been brought into action. Therefore Nature made periods. She gave the creature time to recover itself from one exertion gone through with, in order to begin, with joy, and to accomplish another and more difficult. For when the plant puts forth a flower, or when the fruit is forming in it, unquestionably more inward and finer forces are put in action than when the sap was entering the stem, and the lowest leaves were brought forth. In the ordinary course of things, Nature does not leave her work until all its physical powers have been brought into action; the innermost, as it were, turned outward, and the development, which, at every step, is assisted by a kindly epigenesis, has become as perfect as it could become, under the given conditions.

Men are accustomed to regard each individual object, and especially each living individual as an isolated whole; but a nearer view shows it to be connected with soil, climate, weather, with the periodical breath of all Nature; and that, according to these, it lasts for a longer or shorter time, grows early old or easily renews its youth. Man, a rational, moral and political creation, lives, by means of these capacities and powers, in a peculiar and infinitely extended element. His reason is connected with the reason of others, his moral culture with the conduct of others, his capacity to constitute himself a free being, — both in himself and in connection with others, — is so intimately connected with the way of thinking, the reasonableness, the active enterprise of many, that out of this element, he must needs be like a fish on dry land, or a bird in a space destitute of air. His best powers die out, his capacity remains a dead capability; and all effort, out of time and place, and without the co-operation of the elements, is like a flower in the midst of winter.

It is Nature that makes seasons; it is she that furthers capacities. She furthers them also in human kind. Individual men, classes, corporations, whole societies and nations, can only advance with this stream, they have done all if they steer wisely upon it. Let no one think that, if all the regents of the earth from the proudest Negro King to the mightiest Khan of the Tartars should combine to make to-day yesterday and to hinder forever the progressive development of the human race, whether it lead to youth or to old age they could ever accomplish their aim. This can never be an aim with wise rulers, simply, because there is no sense in such fruitless endeavor.

A wise ruler then will always regard himself as the householder, not as the antagonist of Nature. He will improve every circumstance which she offers, to the best issues. Here leaves are falling, there a whole autumn of leaves lie already in their shrouds. He will not attempt to restore them again to their former places on limb and twig. Can he give them back their former freshness and sap which made them a living whole with the tree on which they hung? And if he cannot do this, how then? Will he crown himself with a withered wreath of dried leaves, because they were other once than they are now? What Nature could not keep, will the gardener keep it? and that too, not in conformity with the ends of Nature, but in direct opposition to them? Infinitely more beautiful the task to follow Nature, to mark her times, to awaken powers wherever they slumber, to promote thought, activity, invention, joy and love, in whatsoever field of useful employment. Necessity comes at last and compels with iron sceptre. He who obeys reason and measure will prevent necessity. Often, he will need only to beckon with the lily-staff of Oberon, and here new flowers will spring instead of the withered ones, and there, if the blossom-time is past, nourishing fruits will come to maturity. He will come to the aid of the young shoot and take it under his protection against oppressive weeds. The old wild tree he will not cut down but graft more genial fruits upon it, and the rejuvenized tree will wonder, itself, at its nobler existence. A slight anticipation of this kind, by which one nation had got the start of another, has often secured to it, for centuries, unattainable advantages.

England acquired the position which she now occupies, by a somewhat earlier adoption and application of certain points of constitutional finance and commerce, which had long before germinated in other countries, but which folly and passion had suppressed. After many violent revolutions which passed over her, like bloody thunder-showers, it was given to the most peaceful and silent revolution, to awaken a new activity, and thereby to establish, for centuries, the prosperity of a living constitution. If in the time of William the Third, she had attempted to renew the feudal, military and forest laws of William the Conqueror, where would she be now?

All orders and arrangements of society are the children of Time. This ancient mother produced, nourished, educated them; she adorned and fitted them out; and after a longer or shorter term of life, she buries them as she buries and renews herself. Whoever therefore confounds his own being with the duration of an order or institution, gives himself unnecessary torment. That which was before thee, will be behind thee too, if it is to be. For thine own part, act understandingly and wisely; time will proceed in its great course and accomplish its own. Be in thine own person more than thine order; and then, however that may grow old, thou wilt be, for thyself and for others, always young. Yea, the darker the night, the brighter shalt thou beam a star! He who does not raise himself above the breastwork of his order, is no hero within it. An order, as such, makes only puppets. Personality makes worth and merit. The more that idle, dead hull which conceals the best as well as the poorest kernel falls away, the more the fair and ripe fruit appears.

Assuredly, therefore, it is no retrocession, but an evolution of the times, when the order ceases to be all, and men demand to see, in each order, persons, men, active beings. And since, without a new incursion of barbarism, and with the daily increasing necessities of Europe, this feeling must necessarily increase, there remains only one counsel which can secure each one against the senescence of his order. Be something in your order, and then you will be the first to perceive, to avoid and to amend its defects. Its old age will appear rejuvenized in you, precisely because there is something in you which would grace every form and live in all.

The excellent Paolo Sarpi wrote a treatise, the title of which attracted me exceedingly: “How opinions are born and die in us.” I was very curious to become acquainted with its contents. And although I saw from Foscarini’s extract in Grisellini, that it was not likely to contain what I had supposed, this capital problem nevertheless was often in my thoughts. Many are the ways in which, from earliest childhood, we arrive at opinions with which we clothe ourselves, body and soul. Many of them cleave to us with great tenacity, and the silliest we generally keep concealed behind our innermost, ninth skin, where, let no one presume to touch them! Unfortunately, however. Time will touch them, and often with very rude hands. And he who, in order to save his life, that is, his reason, peace and the self-consciousness of internal worth, cannot yield the skin and hair of his opinions to the meddling Satan, is in bad hands. For that which is mere opinion, or even false opinion, will assuredly perish in the fierce fire of purification. But is it not something better that shall arise in its place? Instead of opinions received on authority or even, as Franklin relates, from politeness, knowledge from conviction, reason approved by our own investigation, and a self-acquired felicity shall be our portion. The old man in us must die that a new youth may spring up.

“But how may this be! Can a man return into his mother’s womb and be born again?” To this doubt of old Nicodemus, the only answer that can be given is:  ‘Palingenesia.’! — not Revolution, but a happy Evolution of the faculties which slumber in us, and by means of which we renew our youth. What we call outliving ourselves, — that is, a kind of death, — is, with souls of the better sort but sleep, which precedes a new waking, a relaxation of the bow which prepares it for new use. So rests the fallow field, in order to produce the more plentifully hereafter. So dies the tree in winter, that it may put forth and blossom anew in the spring. Destiny never forsakes the good, as long as he does not forsake himself, and ignobly despair of himself The Genius which seemed to have departed from him, returns to him again, at the right moment, bringing new activity, fortune and joy. Sometimes the Genius comes in the shape of a friend, sometimes in that of an unexpected change of times. Sacrifice to this Genius even though you see him not! Hope in back-looking, returning Fortune, even when you deem her far off”!

If the left side is sore, lay yourself on the right; if the storm has bent your sapling one way, bend it the other way, until it attains, once more, the perpendicular medium. You have wearied your memory? Then exercise your understanding. You have striven too diligently after seeming, and it has deceived you? Now seek being. That will not deceive. Unmerited fame has spoiled you? Thank Heaven that you are rid of it, and seek, in your own worth, a fame which cannot be taken away. Nothing is nobler and more venerable than a man, who, in spite of fate, perseveres in his duty, and who, if he is not happy outwardly, at least deserves to be so. He will certainly become so, at the right season. The Serpent of time often casts her slough, and brings to the man in his cave, if not the fabled jewel on her head and the rose in her mouth, at least medicinal herbs which procure him oblivion of the past, and restoration to new life.

Philosophy abounds in remedies designed to console us for misfortunes endured, but unquestionably, its best remedy is when it strengthens us to bear new misfortunes, and imparts to us a firm reliance on ourselves. The illusion which weakens the faculties of the soul, comes, for the most part, from without. But the objects which environ us are not ourselves. It is sad indeed, when the situation in which a man is placed, is so embittered and made so wretched, that he has no desire to touch one of its grapes or flowers, because they crumble to ashes in his hands, like those fruits of Sodom. Nevertheless, the situation is not himself; let him, like the tortoise, draw in his limbs and be what he can and ought. The more he disregards the consequences of his actions, the more repose he has in action. Thereby the soul grows stronger and revivifies itself, like an ever-springing fountain. The fountain does not stop to calculate through what regions of the earth its stream shall flow, what foreign matter it shall take in, and where it shall finally lose itself It flows from its own fullness, with an irrepressible motion. That which others show us of ourselves is only appearance. It has always some foundation, and is never to be wholly despised; but it is only the reflection of our being in them, mirrored back to us from their own; often a broken and dim form, and not our being itself.

Let the little insects creep over and around you, and be at the uttermost pains to make you appear dead; they work in their nature. Work you in yours, and live! In fact, our breast, our character, keeps us always more and longer upright, than all the acumen of the head, than all the cunning of the mind. In the heart we live, and not in the thoughts. The opinions of others may be a favorable or unfavorable wind in our sails. As the ocean its vessels, so circumstances at one time may hold us fast, at another may powerfully further us; but ship and sail, compass, helm and oar, are still our own. Never, then, like old Tithonus, grow gray in the conceit that your youth has passed away. Rather, with newly awakened activity, let a new Aurora daily spring from your arms.

I ought now to speak to the greater problem, peculiarly adapted to our times: Whether nations, countries, states, must also decline with old age, or whether they too are capable of a new youth? And by what means that youth may be renewed? On this question there is great division of opinion, and, as each opinion knows how to fortify itself with examples from history, this very difference in the answers is itself a proof of the indefiniteness of the question. What is it that can grow old in a nation, a country, a state? What, in them, can or ought to be made young again? Is it the soul, the air, the sky? And how are these changed for the better or worse? Is it the farms, meadows, forests, salt-springs, mines, trees? Or is it the manner of working them, the profit and the application of their products? Is it these alone, or is it man himself, his race, his manners, his education and mode of living, his principles and opinions, his relations and conditions? And how shall these be changed? By speeches and writings, or by institutions and well-directed, consistent, continued action? And what object shall this change accomplish? Superfluity for the few, comfort and idleness for the many, or the happiness of all? And wherein consists the happiness of all? In arts and sciences? In seeming or in being? In loquacious enlightenment or in genuine culture? All these, and perhaps other questions, should be considered with careful reference to place, time and circumstances, and a comparison with more ancient examples and their consequences. And then, it would probably be found:

That land and people never grow old, or only at a very late period; but that States, as human institutions, as children of the times, or even, in many cases, as the mere growth of accident, have their age and their youth, and, consequently, an ever-progressive, imperceptible movement toward growth, toward blossoming, or toward dissolution.

That man, often individual men, may retard or promote these periods, nay, that they are mostly promoted by opposite measures.

That when forces are at work, either for bloom or for dissolution, their progress is rapid, and everything appears to assimilate itself with them, until trivial circumstances, — often again, individual men, — give the stream a different direction; which new direction, again, is the result of a living presence, although it sometimes appears to be the effect of chance.

That, finally, in order to forestall those fearful explosions which are called political revolutions, and which ought to be entirely foreign from the book of human affairs, the State has no other remedy, but to preserve or to restore the natural relation, the healthy action of all its parts, the brisk circulation of its juices, and must not contend against the nature of things. Sooner or later the strongest machine must succumb in that contest; but Nature never grows old. She only renews her youth periodically, in all her living forces.

The timid nature of man, always compassed about with hope and fear, often prophesies distant evils as near, and calls that death, which is only a wholesome slumber, a necessary, health bringing relaxation. And so it generally deceives itself in its predictions concerning lands and kingdoms. Powers lie dormant which we do not perceive. Faculties and circumstances are developing themselves, on which we could not calculate. But even when our judgment is true, it usually leans too much to one side. “If this is to live,” we say, “that must die.” We do not consider, whether it may not be possible that both shall live and act favorably on each other?

The good Bishop Berkeley, who was no poet, was inspired, by his beneficent zeal for America, to write the following:

Westward the star of empire takes its way;
The four first acts already past,
The fifth shall close the drama with the day,
Time’s noblest offspring is the last.

So prophesied the good-natured Bishop, and if his spirit could now glance at yonder up-striving America, he would perhaps discover, with that same glance, that, in the arms of the old Tithon, Europe, also, a new Aurora was slumbering. Not four, scarcely three acts in the great drama of this, still youthful, quarter of the globe, are past; and who shall say how many times yet the old Tithon of the human race may and will renew his youth upon our earth!


Prose writers of Germany by Frederic Henry Hedge, 1805-1890 p. 242-248

Published by kierkegaardschallenge

I found myself becoming interested in the writings of Soren Kierkegaard and can't get my interest to end.

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