The ordinary procedure of the nineteenth century is that when a powerful and noble personage encounters a man of feeling, he kills, exiles, imprisons or so humiliates him that the other, like a fool, dies of grief.
She stood in awe of her elder daughter. Lida was never tender, she spoke only about serious things; she lived her own separate life and for her mother and sister was as sacred and slightly mysterious a personage as an admiral who always remains in his cabin is for his sailors. - The House with the Mezzanine
All I ask is this: Do something. Try something. Speaking out, showing up, writing a letter, a check, a strongly worded e-mail. Pick a cause - there are few unworthy ones. And nudge yourself past the brink of tacit support to action. Once a month, once a year, or just once... Even just learning enough about a subject so you can speak against an opponent eloquently makes you an unusual personage. Start with that. Any one of you would have cried out, would have intervened, had you been in that crowd in Bashiqa. Well thanks to digital technology, you're all in it now.
Do you think me horselike, my lord?" Realizing the threat to his personage, Blackmoor wiped the smile from his face and replied, "Not at all. I said I think you charming." "A fine start." "And I appreciate your exuberance." His eyes glitered with barely contained laughter. "Like that of a child." Hers sparkled with irritation. "And, of course, you are entertaining." "Excellent. Like the aforementioned child's toy." He couldn't hide a chuckle. "Not at all. You are a far better companion than any of the toys I had as a child." "Oh, I am most flattered." "You should be. I had some tremendous toys.
Ingenious philosophers tell you, perhaps, that the great work of the steam-engine is to create leisure for mankind. Do not believe them: it only creates a vacuum for eager thought to rush in. Even idleness is eager now-eager for amusement; prone to excursion-trains, art museums, periodical literature, and exciting novels; prone even to scientific theorizing and cursory peeps through microscopes. Old Leisure was quite a different personage. He only read one newspaper, innocent of leaders, and was free from that periodicity of sensations which we call post-time. He was a contemplative, rather stout gentleman, of excellent digestion; of quiet perceptions, undiseased by hypothesis; happy in his inability to know the causes of things, preferring the things themselves. He lived chiefly in the country, among pleasant seats and homesteads, and was fond of sauntering by the fruit-tree wall and scenting the apricots when they were warmed by the morning sunshine, or of sheltering himself under the orchard boughs at noon, when the summer pears were falling. He knew nothing of weekday services, and thought none the worse of the Sunday sermon if it allowed him to sleep from the text to the blessing; liking the afternoon service best, because the prayers were the shortest, and not ashamed to say so; for he had an easy, jolly conscience, broad-backed like himself, and able to carry a great deal of beer or port-wine, not being made squeamish by doubts and qualms and lofty aspirations.
One of them is a very familiar personage. Her name is 'Mother Church.' She is, in many ways, an admirable and dedicated person, deeply concerned about her children, endlessly and tirelessly careful for every detail of their welfare. Her long experience has taught her to understand her family very well. She knows their capabilities and she knows their weakness even better. She is patient and imperturbable, quite unshockable (she has witnessed all of the considerable range of human wickedness in her time) and there are no lengths to which she ill not go to educate her family. She has a huge fund of stories, maxims and advice, all of them time-tested, and usually interesting as well. She is very talented, skilled din creating a beautiful home for her children; she can show them how to enrich their lives with the glory of music and art. And there is no doubt that she loves God, and wishes to guide her children according to his will. On the other hand, she is extremely inclined to feel that her will and God's are identical. In her eyes there can be no better, no other, way than hers. If she is unshockable, she is frequently cynical. She is shrewd, with a thoroughly earthy and often humorous shrewdness. She knows her children's limitations so well that she will not allow them to outgrow them. She will lie and cheat if she feels it is necessary to keep her charges safe; she uses her authority 'for their own good' but if it seems to be questioned she is ruthless in suppressing revolt. She is hugely self-satisfied, and her judgement, while experienced, is often insensitive and therefore cruel. She is suspicious of eccentricity and new ideas, since her own are so clearly effective, and non-conformists get a rough time, though after they are dead she often feels differently about them. This is Mother Church, a crude, domineering, violent, loving, deceitful, compassionate old lady, a person to whom one cannot be indifferent, whom may one may love much and yet fight against, whom one may hate and yet respect.
I had ceased to be a writer of tolerably poor tales and essays, and had become a tolerably good Surveyor of the Customs. That was all. But, nevertheless, it is any thing but agreeable to be haunted by a suspicion that one's intellect is dwindling away; or exhaling, without your consciousness, like ether out of a phial; so that, at every glance, you find a smaller and less volatile residuum. Of the fact, there could be no doubt; and, examining myself and others, I was led to conclusions in reference to the effect of public office on the character, not very favorable to the mode of life in question. In some other form, perhaps, I may hereafter develop these effects. Suffice it here to say, that a Custom-House officer, of long continuance, can hardly be a very praiseworthy or respectable personage, for many reasons; one of them, the tenure by which he holds his situation, and another, the very nature of his business, which-though, I trust, an honest one-is of such a sort that he does not share in the united effort of mankind. An effect-which I believe to be observable, more or less, in every individual who has occupied the position-is, that, while he leans on the mighty arm of the Republic, his own proper strength departs from him. He loses, in an extent proportioned to the weakness or force of his original nature, the capability of self-support. If he possess an unusual share of native energy, or the enervating magic of place do not operate too long upon him, his forfeited powers may be redeemable. The ejected officer-fortunate in the unkindly shove that sends him forth betimes, to struggle amid a struggling world-may return to himself, and become all that he has ever been. But this seldom happens. He usually keeps his ground just long enough for his own ruin, and is then thrust out, with sinews all unstrung, to totter along the difficult footpath of life as he best may. Conscious of his own infirmity, -that his tempered steel and elasticity are lost, -he for ever afterwards looks wistfully about him in quest of support external to himself. His pervading and continual hope-a hallucination, which, in the face of all discouragement, and making light of impossibilities, haunts him while he lives, and, I fancy, like the convulsive throes of the cholera, torments him for a brief space after death-is, that, finally, and in no long time, by some happy coincidence of circumstances, he shall be restored to office. This faith, more than any thing else, steals the pith and availability out of whatever enterprise he may dream of undertaking. Why should he toil and moil, and be at so much trouble to pick himself up out of the mud, when, in a little while hence, the strong arm of his Uncle will raise and support him? Why should he work for his living here, or go to dig gold in California, when he is so soon to be made happy, at monthly intervals, with a little pile of glittering coin out of his Uncle's pocket? It is sadly curious to observe how slight a taste of office suffices to infect a poor fellow with this singular disease. Uncle Sam's gold-meaning no disrespect to the worthy old gentleman-has, in this respect, a quality of enchantment like that of the Devil's wages. Whoever touches it should look well to himself, or he may find the bargain to go hard against him, involving, if not his soul, yet many of its better attributes; its sturdy force, its courage and constancy, its truth, its self-reliance, and all that gives the emphasis to manly character.
4. Religion. Your reason is now mature enough to examine this object. In the first place, divest yourself of all bias in favor of novelty & singularity of opinion... shake off all the fears & servile prejudices, under which weak minds are servilely crouched. Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear. You will naturally examine first, the religion of your own country. Read the Bible, then as you would read Livy or Tacitus. The facts which are within the ordinary course of nature, you will believe on the authority of the writer, as you do those of the same kind in Livy and Tacitus. The testimony of the writer weighs in their favor, in one scale, and their not being against the laws of nature, does not weigh against them. But those facts in the Bible which contradict the laws of nature, must be examined with more care, and under a variety of faces. Here you must recur to the pretensions of the writer to inspiration from God. Examine upon what evidence his pretensions are founded, and whether that evidence is so strong, as that its falsehood would be more improbable than a change in the laws of nature, in the case he relates. For example in the book of Joshua we are told the sun stood still several hours. Were we to read that fact in Livy or Tacitus we should class it with their showers of blood, speaking of statues, beasts, &c. But it is said that the writer of that book was inspired. Examine therefore candidly what evidence there is of his having been inspired. The pretension is entitled to your inquiry, because millions believe it. On the other hand you are astronomer enough to know how contrary it is to the law of nature that a body revolving on its axis as the earth does, should have stopped, should not by that sudden stoppage have prostrated animals, trees, buildings, and should after a certain time have resumed its revolution, & that without a second general prostration. Is this arrest of the earth's motion, or the evidence which affirms it, most within the law of probabilities? You will next read the New Testament. It is the history of a personage called Jesus. Keep in your eye the opposite pretensions: 1, of those who say he was begotten by God, born of a virgin, suspended & reversed the laws of nature at will, & ascended bodily into heaven; and 2, of those who say he was a man of illegitimate birth, of a benevolent heart, enthusiastic mind, who set out without pretensions to divinity, ended in believing them, and was punished capitally for sedition, by being gibbeted, according to the Roman law, which punished the first commission of that offence by whipping, & the second by exile, or death in furee˘... Do not be frightened from this inquiry by any fear of its consequences. If it ends in a belief that there is no God, you will find incitements to virtue in the comfort and pleasantness you feel in its exercise, and the love of others which it will procure you... In fine, I repeat, you must lay aside all prejudice on both sides, and neither believe nor reject anything, because any other persons, or description of persons, have rejected or believed it... I forgot to observe, when speaking of the New Testament, that you should read all the histories of Christ, as well of those whom a council of ecclesiastics have decided for us, to be Pseudo-evangelists, as those they named Evangelists. Because these Pseudo-evangelists pretended to inspiration, as much as the others, and you are to judge their pretensions by your own reason, and not by the reason of those ecclesiastics. Most of these are lost... [Letter to his nephew, Peter Carr, advising him in matters of religion, 1787]