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Ch. 4 - Hero as Priest

[May 15, 1840.]

Our present discourse is to be of the Great Man as Priest. We have
repeatedly endeavored to explain that all sorts of Heroes are intrinsically
of the same material; that given a great soul, open to the Divine
Significance of Life, then there is given a man fit to speak of this, to
sing of this, to fight and work for this, in a great, victorious, enduring
manner; there is given a Hero,--the outward shape of whom will depend on
the time and the environment he finds himself in. The Priest too, as I
understand it, is a kind of Prophet; in him too there is required to be a
light of inspiration, as we must name it. He presides over the worship of
the people; is the Uniter of them with the Unseen Holy. He is the
spiritual Captain of the people; as the Prophet is their spiritual King
with many captains: he guides them heavenward, by wise guidance through
this Earth and its work. The ideal of him is, that he too be what we can
call a voice from the unseen Heaven; interpreting, even as the Prophet did,
and in a more familiar manner unfolding the same to men. The unseen
Heaven,--the "open secret of the Universe,"--which so few have an eye for!
He is the Prophet shorn of his more awful splendor; burning with mild
equable radiance, as the enlightener of daily life. This, I say, is the
ideal of a Priest. So in old times; so in these, and in all times. One
knows very well that, in reducing ideals to practice, great latitude of
tolerance is needful; very great. But a Priest who is not this at all, who
does not any longer aim or try to be this, is a character--of whom we had
rather not speak in this place.

Luther and Knox were by express vocation Priests, and did faithfully
perform that function in its common sense. Yet it will suit us better here
to consider them chiefly in their historical character, rather as Reformers
than Priests. There have been other Priests perhaps equally notable, in
calmer times, for doing faithfully the office of a Leader of Worship;
bringing down, by faithful heroism in that kind, a light from Heaven into
the daily life of their people; leading them forward, as under God's
guidance, in the way wherein they were to go. But when this same _way_ was
a rough one, of battle, confusion and danger, the spiritual Captain, who
led through that, becomes, especially to us who live under the fruit of his
leading, more notable than any other. He is the warfaring and battling
Priest; who led his people, not to quiet faithful labor as in smooth times,
but to faithful valorous conflict, in times all violent, dismembered: a
more perilous service, and a more memorable one, be it higher or not.
These two men we will account our best Priests, inasmuch as they were our
best Reformers. Nay I may ask, Is not every true Reformer, by the nature
of him, a _Priest_ first of all? He appeals to Heaven's invisible justice
against Earth's visible force; knows that it, the invisible, is strong and
alone strong. He is a believer in the divine truth of things; a _seer_,
seeing through the shows of things; a worshipper, in one way or the other,
of the divine truth of things; a Priest, that is. If he be not first a
Priest, he will never be good for much as a Reformer.

Thus then, as we have seen Great Men, in various situations, building up
Religions, heroic Forms of human Existence in this world, Theories of Life
worthy to be sung by a Dante, Practices of Life by a Shakspeare,--we are
now to see the reverse process; which also is necessary, which also may be
carried on in the Heroic manner. Curious how this should be necessary:
yet necessary it is. The mild shining of the Poet's light has to give
place to the fierce lightning of the Reformer: unfortunately the Reformer
too is a personage that cannot fail in History! The Poet indeed, with his
mildness, what is he but the product and ultimate adjustment of Reform, or
Prophecy, with its fierceness? No wild Saint Dominics and Thebaid
Eremites, there had been no melodious Dante; rough Practical Endeavor,
Scandinavian and other, from Odin to Walter Raleigh, from Ulfila to
Cranmer, enabled Shakspeare to speak. Nay the finished Poet, I remark
sometimes, is a symptom that his epoch itself has reached perfection and is
finished; that before long there will be a new epoch, new Reformers needed.

Doubtless it were finer, could we go along always in the way of _music_; be
tamed and taught by our Poets, as the rude creatures were by their Orpheus
of old. Or failing this rhythmic _musical_ way, how good were it could we
get so much as into the _equable_ way; I mean, if _peaceable_ Priests,
reforming from day to day, would always suffice us! But it is not so; even
this latter has not yet been realized. Alas, the battling Reformer too is,
from time to time, a needful and inevitable phenomenon. Obstructions are
never wanting: the very things that were once indispensable furtherances
become obstructions; and need to be shaken off, and left behind us,--a
business often of enormous difficulty. It is notable enough, surely, how a
Theorem or spiritual Representation, so we may call it, which once took in
the whole Universe, and was completely satisfactory in all parts of it to
the highly discursive acute intellect of Dante, one of the greatest in the
world,--had in the course of another century become dubitable to common
intellects; become deniable; and is now, to every one of us, flatly
incredible, obsolete as Odin's Theorem! To Dante, human Existence, and
God's ways with men, were all well represented by those _Malebolges_,
_Purgatorios_; to Luther not well. How was this? Why could not Dante's
Catholicism continue; but Luther's Protestantism must needs follow? Alas,
nothing will _continue_.

I do not make much of "Progress of the Species," as handled in these times
of ours; nor do I think you would care to hear much about it. The talk on
that subject is too often of the most extravagant, confused sort. Yet I
may say, the fact itself seems certain enough; nay we can trace out the
inevitable necessity of it in the nature of things. Every man, as I have
stated somewhere, is not only a learner but a doer: he learns with the
mind given him what has been; but with the same mind he discovers farther,
he invents and devises somewhat of his own. Absolutely without originality
there is no man. No man whatever believes, or can believe, exactly what
his grandfather believed: he enlarges somewhat, by fresh discovery, his
view of the Universe, and consequently his Theorem of the Universe,--which
is an _infinite_ Universe, and can never be embraced wholly or finally by
any view or Theorem, in any conceivable enlargement: he enlarges somewhat,
I say; finds somewhat that was credible to his grandfather incredible to
him, false to him, inconsistent with some new thing he has discovered or
observed. It is the history of every man; and in the history of Mankind we
see it summed up into great historical amounts,--revolutions, new epochs.
Dante's Mountain of Purgatory does _not_ stand "in the ocean of the other
Hemisphere," when Columbus has once sailed thither! Men find no such thing
extant in the other Hemisphere. It is not there. It must cease to be
believed to be there. So with all beliefs whatsoever in this world,--all
Systems of Belief, and Systems of Practice that spring from these.

If we add now the melancholy fact, that when Belief waxes uncertain,
Practice too becomes unsound, and errors, injustices and miseries
everywhere more and more prevail, we shall see material enough for
revolution. At all turns, a man who will _do_ faithfully, needs to believe
firmly. If he have to ask at every turn the world's suffrage; if he cannot
dispense with the world's suffrage, and make his own suffrage serve, he is
a poor eye-servant; the work committed to him will be _mis_done. Every
such man is a daily contributor to the inevitable downfall. Whatsoever
work he does, dishonestly, with an eye to the outward look of it, is a new
offence, parent of new misery to somebody or other. Offences accumulate
till they become insupportable; and are then violently burst through,
cleared off as by explosion. Dante's sublime Catholicism, incredible now
in theory, and defaced still worse by faithless, doubting and dishonest
practice, has to be torn asunder by a Luther, Shakspeare's noble Feudalism,
as beautiful as it once looked and was, has to end in a French Revolution.
The accumulation of offences is, as we say, too literally _exploded_,
blasted asunder volcanically; and there are long troublous periods, before
matters come to a settlement again.

Surely it were mournful enough to look only at this face of the matter, and
find in all human opinions and arrangements merely the fact that they were
uncertain, temporary, subject to the law of death! At bottom, it is not
so: all death, here too we find, is but of the body, not of the essence or
soul; all destruction, by violent revolution or howsoever it be, is but new
creation on a wider scale. Odinism was _Valor_; Christianism was
_Humility_, a nobler kind of Valor. No thought that ever dwelt honestly as
true in the heart of man but _was_ an honest insight into God's truth on
man's part, and _has_ an essential truth in it which endures through all
changes, an everlasting possession for us all. And, on the other hand,
what a melancholy notion is that, which has to represent all men, in all
countries and times except our own, as having spent their life in blind
condemnable error, mere lost Pagans, Scandinavians, Mahometans, only that
we might have the true ultimate knowledge! All generations of men were
lost and wrong, only that this present little section of a generation might
be saved and right. They all marched forward there, all generations since
the beginning of the world, like the Russian soldiers into the ditch of
Schweidnitz Fort, only to fill up the ditch with their dead bodies, that we
might march over and take the place! It is an incredible hypothesis.

Such incredible hypothesis we have seen maintained with fierce emphasis;
and this or the other poor individual man, with his sect of individual men,
marching as over the dead bodies of all men, towards sure victory but when
he too, with his hypothesis and ultimate infallible credo, sank into the
ditch, and became a dead body, what was to be said?--Withal, it is an
important fact in the nature of man, that he tends to reckon his own
insight as final, and goes upon it as such. He will always do it, I
suppose, in one or the other way; but it must be in some wider, wiser way
than this. Are not all true men that live, or that ever lived, soldiers of
the same army, enlisted, under Heaven's captaincy, to do battle against the
same enemy, the empire of Darkness and Wrong? Why should we misknow one
another, fight not against the enemy but against ourselves, from mere
difference of uniform? All uniforms shall be good, so they hold in them
true valiant men. All fashions of arms, the Arab turban and swift
scimetar, Thor's strong hammer smiting down _Jotuns_, shall be welcome.
Luther's battle-voice, Dante's march-melody, all genuine things are with
us, not against us. We are all under one Captain. soldiers of the same
host.--Let us now look a little at this Luther's fighting; what kind of
battle it was, and how he comported himself in it. Luther too was of our
spiritual Heroes; a Prophet to his country and time.

As introductory to the whole, a remark about Idolatry will perhaps be in
place here. One of Mahomet's characteristics, which indeed belongs to all
Prophets, is unlimited implacable zeal against Idolatry. It is the grand
theme of Prophets: Idolatry, the worshipping of dead Idols as the
Divinity, is a thing they cannot away with, but have to denounce
continually, and brand with inexpiable reprobation; it is the chief of all
the sins they see done under the sun. This is worth noting. We will not
enter here into the theological question about Idolatry. Idol is
_Eidolon_, a thing seen, a symbol. It is not God, but a Symbol of God; and
perhaps one may question whether any the most benighted mortal ever took it
for more than a Symbol. I fancy, he did not think that the poor image his
own hands had made _was_ God; but that God was emblemed by it, that God was
in it some way or other. And now in this sense, one may ask, Is not all
worship whatsoever a worship by Symbols, by _eidola_, or things seen?
Whether _seen_, rendered visible as an image or picture to the bodily eye;
or visible only to the inward eye, to the imagination, to the intellect:
this makes a superficial, but no substantial difference. It is still a
Thing Seen, significant of Godhead; an Idol. The most rigorous Puritan has
his Confession of Faith, and intellectual Representation of Divine things,
and worships thereby; thereby is worship first made possible for him. All
creeds, liturgies, religious forms, conceptions that fitly invest religious
feelings, are in this sense _eidola_, things seen. All worship whatsoever
must proceed by Symbols, by Idols:--we may say, all Idolatry is
comparative, and the worst Idolatry is only _more_ idolatrous.

Where, then, lies the evil of it? Some fatal evil must lie in it, or
earnest prophetic men would not on all hands so reprobate it. Why is
Idolatry so hateful to Prophets? It seems to me as if, in the worship of
those poor wooden symbols, the thing that had chiefly provoked the Prophet,
and filled his inmost soul with indignation and aversion, was not exactly
what suggested itself to his own thought, and came out of him in words to
others, as the thing. The rudest heathen that worshipped Canopus, or the
Caabah Black-Stone, he, as we saw, was superior to the horse that
worshipped nothing at all! Nay there was a kind of lasting merit in that
poor act of his; analogous to what is still meritorious in Poets:
recognition of a certain endless _divine_ beauty and significance in stars
and all natural objects whatsoever. Why should the Prophet so mercilessly
condemn him? The poorest mortal worshipping his Fetish, while his heart is
full of it, may be an object of pity, of contempt and avoidance, if you
will; but cannot surely be an object of hatred. Let his heart _be_
honestly full of it, the whole space of his dark narrow mind illuminated
thereby; in one word, let him entirely _believe_ in his Fetish,--it will
then be, I should say, if not well with him, yet as well as it can readily
be made to be, and you will leave him alone, unmolested there.

But here enters the fatal circumstance of Idolatry, that, in the era of the
Prophets, no man's mind _is_ any longer honestly filled with his Idol or
Symbol. Before the Prophet can arise who, seeing through it, knows it to
be mere wood, many men must have begun dimly to doubt that it was little
more. Condemnable Idolatry is _insincere_ Idolatry. Doubt has eaten out
the heart of it: a human soul is seen clinging spasmodically to an Ark of
the Covenant, which it half feels now to have become a Phantasm. This is
one of the balefulest sights. Souls are no longer filled with their
Fetish; but only pretend to be filled, and would fain make themselves feel
that they are filled. "You do not believe," said Coleridge; "you only
believe that you believe." It is the final scene in all kinds of Worship
and Symbolism; the sure symptom that death is now nigh. It is equivalent
to what we call Formulism, and Worship of Formulas, in these days of ours.
No more immoral act can be done by a human creature; for it is the
beginning of all immorality, or rather it is the impossibility henceforth
of any morality whatsoever: the innermost moral soul is paralyzed thereby,
cast into fatal magnetic sleep! Men are no longer _sincere_ men. I do not
wonder that the earnest man denounces this, brands it, prosecutes it with
inextinguishable aversion. He and it, all good and it, are at death-feud.
Blamable Idolatry is _Cant_, and even what one may call Sincere-Cant.
Sincere-Cant: that is worth thinking of! Every sort of Worship ends with
this phasis.

I find Luther to have been a Breaker of Idols, no less than any other
Prophet. The wooden gods of the Koreish, made of timber and bees-wax, were
not more hateful to Mahomet than Tetzel's Pardons of Sin, made of sheepskin
and ink, were to Luther. It is the property of every Hero, in every time,
in every place and situation, that he come back to reality; that he stand
upon things, and not shows of things. According as he loves, and
venerates, articulately or with deep speechless thought, the awful
realities of things, so will the hollow shows of things, however regular,
decorous, accredited by Koreishes or Conclaves, be intolerable and
detestable to him. Protestantism, too, is the work of a Prophet: the
prophet-work of that sixteenth century. The first stroke of honest
demolition to an ancient thing grown false and idolatrous; preparatory afar
off to a new thing, which shall be true, and authentically divine!

At first view it might seem as if Protestantism were entirely destructive
to this that we call Hero-worship, and represent as the basis of all
possible good, religious or social, for mankind. One often hears it said
that Protestantism introduced a new era, radically different from any the
world had ever seen before: the era of "private judgment," as they call
it. By this revolt against the Pope, every man became his own Pope; and
learnt, among other things, that he must never trust any Pope, or spiritual
Hero-captain, any more! Whereby, is not spiritual union, all hierarchy and
subordination among men, henceforth an impossibility? So we hear it
said.--Now I need not deny that Protestantism was a revolt against
spiritual sovereignties, Popes and much else. Nay I will grant that
English Puritanism, revolt against earthly sovereignties, was the second
act of it; that the enormous French Revolution itself was the third act,
whereby all sovereignties earthly and spiritual were, as might seem,
abolished or made sure of abolition. Protestantism is the grand root from
which our whole subsequent European History branches out. For the
spiritual will always body itself forth in the temporal history of men; the
spiritual is the beginning of the temporal. And now, sure enough, the cry
is everywhere for Liberty and Equality, Independence and so forth; instead
of _Kings_, Ballot-boxes and Electoral suffrages: it seems made out that
any Hero-sovereign, or loyal obedience of men to a man, in things temporal
or things spiritual, has passed away forever from the world. I should
despair of the world altogether, if so. One of my deepest convictions is,
that it is not so. Without sovereigns, true sovereigns, temporal and
spiritual, I see nothing possible but an anarchy; the hatefulest of things.
But I find Protestantism, whatever anarchic democracy it have produced, to
be the beginning of new genuine sovereignty and order. I find it to be a
revolt against _false_ sovereigns; the painful but indispensable first
preparative for _true_ sovereigns getting place among us! This is worth
explaining a little.

Let us remark, therefore, in the first place, that this of "private
judgment" is, at bottom, not a new thing in the world, but only new at that
epoch of the world. There is nothing generically new or peculiar in the
Reformation; it was a return to Truth and Reality in opposition to
Falsehood and Semblance, as all kinds of Improvement and genuine Teaching
are and have been. Liberty of private judgment, if we will consider it,
must at all times have existed in the world. Dante had not put out his
eyes, or tied shackles on himself; he was at home in that Catholicism of
his, a free-seeing soul in it,--if many a poor Hogstraten, Tetzel, and Dr.
Eck had now become slaves in it. Liberty of judgment? No iron chain, or
outward force of any kind, could ever compel the soul of a man to believe
or to disbelieve: it is his own indefeasible light, that judgment of his;
he will reign, and believe there, by the grace of God alone! The sorriest
sophistical Bellarmine, preaching sightless faith and passive obedience,
must first, by some kind of _conviction_, have abdicated his right to be
convinced. His "private judgment" indicated that, as the advisablest step
_he_ could take. The right of private judgment will subsist, in full
force, wherever true men subsist. A true man _believes_ with his whole
judgment, with all the illumination and discernment that is in him, and has
always so believed. A false man, only struggling to "believe that he
believes," will naturally manage it in some other way. Protestantism said
to this latter, Woe! and to the former, Well done! At bottom, it was no
new saying; it was a return to all old sayings that ever had been said. Be
genuine, be sincere: that was, once more, the meaning of it. Mahomet
believed with his whole mind; Odin with his whole mind,--he, and all _true_
Followers of Odinism. They, by their private judgment, had "judged

And now I venture to assert, that the exercise of private judgment,
faithfully gone about, does by no means necessarily end in selfish
independence, isolation; but rather ends necessarily in the opposite of
that. It is not honest inquiry that makes anarchy; but it is error,
insincerity, half-belief and untruth that make it. A man protesting
against error is on the way towards uniting himself with all men that
believe in truth. There is no communion possible among men who believe
only in hearsays. The heart of each is lying dead; has no power of
sympathy even with _things_,--or he would believe _them_ and not hearsays.
No sympathy even with things; how much less with his fellow-men! He cannot
unite with men; he is an anarchic man. Only in a world of sincere men is
unity possible;--and there, in the long-run, it is as good as _certain_.

For observe one thing, a thing too often left out of view, or rather
altogether lost sight of in this controversy: That it is not necessary a
man should himself have _discovered_ the truth he is to believe in, and
never so _sincerely_ to believe in. A Great Man, we said, was always
sincere, as the first condition of him. But a man need not be great in
order to be sincere; that is not the necessity of Nature and all Time, but
only of certain corrupt unfortunate epochs of Time. A man can believe, and
make his own, in the most genuine way, what he has received from
another;--and with boundless gratitude to that other! The merit of
_originality_ is not novelty; it is sincerity. The believing man is the
original man; whatsoever he believes, he believes it for himself, not for
another. Every son of Adam can become a sincere man, an original man, in
this sense; no mortal is doomed to be an insincere man. Whole ages, what
we call ages of Faith, are original; all men in them, or the most of men in
them, sincere. These are the great and fruitful ages: every worker, in
all spheres, is a worker not on semblance but on substance; every work
issues in a result: the general sum of such work is great; for all of it,
as genuine, tends towards one goal; all of it is _additive_, none of it
subtractive. There is true union, true kingship, loyalty, all true and
blessed things, so far as the poor Earth can produce blessedness for men.

Hero-worship? Ah me, that a man be self-subsistent, original, true, or
what we call it, is surely the farthest in the world from indisposing him
to reverence and believe other men's truth! It only disposes, necessitates
and invincibly compels him to disbelieve other men's dead formulas,
hearsays and untruths. A man embraces truth with his eyes open, and
because his eyes are open: does he need to shut them before he can love
his Teacher of truth? He alone can love, with a right gratitude and
genuine loyalty of soul, the Hero-Teacher who has delivered him out of
darkness into light. Is not such a one a true Hero and Serpent-queller;
worthy of all reverence! The black monster, Falsehood, our one enemy in
this world, lies prostrate by his valor; it was he that conquered the world
for us!--See, accordingly, was not Luther himself reverenced as a true
Pope, or Spiritual Father, _being_ verily such? Napoleon, from amid
boundless revolt of Sansculottism, became a King. Hero-worship never dies,
nor can die. Loyalty and Sovereignty are everlasting in the world:--and
there is this in them, that they are grounded not on garnitures and
semblances, but on realities and sincerities. Not by shutting your eyes,
your "private judgment;" no, but by opening them, and by having something
to see! Luther's message was deposition and abolition to all false Popes
and Potentates, but life and strength, though afar off, to new genuine

All this of Liberty and Equality, Electoral suffrages, Independence and so
forth, we will take, therefore, to be a temporary phenomenon, by no means a
final one. Though likely to last a long time, with sad enough embroilments
for us all, we must welcome it, as the penalty of sins that are past, the
pledge of inestimable benefits that are coming. In all ways, it behooved
men to quit simulacra and return to fact; cost what it might, that did
behoove to be done. With spurious Popes, and Believers having no private
judgment,--quacks pretending to command over dupes,--what can you do?
Misery and mischief only. You cannot make an association out of insincere
men; you cannot build an edifice except by plummet and level,--at
right-angles to one another! In all this wild revolutionary work, from
Protestantism downwards, I see the blessedest result preparing itself: not
abolition of Hero-worship, but rather what I would call a whole World of
Heroes. If Hero mean _sincere man_, why may not every one of us be a Hero?
A world all sincere, a believing world: the like has been; the like will
again be,--cannot help being. That were the right sort of Worshippers for
Heroes: never could the truly Better be so reverenced as where all were
True and Good!--But we must hasten to Luther and his Life.

Luther's birthplace was Eisleben in Saxony; he came into the world there on
the 10th of November, 1483. It was an accident that gave this honor to
Eisleben. His parents, poor mine-laborers in a village of that region,
named Mohra, had gone to the Eisleben Winter-Fair: in the tumult of this
scene the Frau Luther was taken with travail, found refuge in some poor
house there, and the boy she bore was named MARTIN LUTHER. Strange enough
to reflect upon it. This poor Frau Luther, she had gone with her husband
to make her small merchandisings; perhaps to sell the lock of yarn she had
been spinning, to buy the small winter-necessaries for her narrow hut or
household; in the whole world, that day, there was not a more entirely
unimportant-looking pair of people than this Miner and his Wife. And yet
what were all Emperors, Popes and Potentates, in comparison? There was
born here, once more, a Mighty Man; whose light was to flame as the beacon
over long centuries and epochs of the world; the whole world and its
history was waiting for this man. It is strange, it is great. It leads us
back to another Birth-hour, in a still meaner environment, Eighteen Hundred
years ago,--of which it is fit that we _say_ nothing, that we think only in
silence; for what words are there! The Age of Miracles past? The Age of
Miracles is forever here!--

I find it altogether suitable to Luther's function in this Earth, and
doubtless wisely ordered to that end by the Providence presiding over him
and us and all things, that he was born poor, and brought up poor, one of
the poorest of men. He had to beg, as the school-children in those times
did; singing for alms and bread, from door to door. Hardship, rigorous
Necessity was the poor boy's companion; no man nor no thing would put on a
false face to flatter Martin Luther. Among things, not among the shows of
things, had he to grow. A boy of rude figure, yet with weak health, with
his large greedy soul, full of all faculty and sensibility, he suffered
greatly. But it was his task to get acquainted with _realities_, and keep
acquainted with them, at whatever cost: his task was to bring the whole
world back to reality, for it had dwelt too long with semblance! A youth
nursed up in wintry whirlwinds, in desolate darkness and difficulty, that
he may step forth at last from his stormy Scandinavia, strong as a true
man, as a god: a Christian Odin,--a right Thor once more, with his
thunder-hammer, to smite asunder ugly enough _Jotuns_ and Giant-monsters!

Perhaps the turning incident of his life, we may fancy, was that death of
his friend Alexis, by lightning, at the gate of Erfurt. Luther had
struggled up through boyhood, better and worse; displaying, in spite of all
hindrances, the largest intellect, eager to learn: his father judging
doubtless that he might promote himself in the world, set him upon the
study of Law. This was the path to rise; Luther, with little will in it
either way, had consented: he was now nineteen years of age. Alexis and
he had been to see the old Luther people at Mansfeldt; were got back again
near Erfurt, when a thunder-storm came on; the bolt struck Alexis, he fell
dead at Luther's feet. What is this Life of ours?--gone in a moment, burnt
up like a scroll, into the blank Eternity! What are all earthly
preferments, Chancellorships, Kingships? They lie shrunk together--there!
The Earth has opened on them; in a moment they are not, and Eternity is.
Luther, struck to the heart, determined to devote himself to God and God's
service alone. In spite of all dissuasions from his father and others, he
became a Monk in the Augustine Convent at Erfurt.

This was probably the first light-point in the history of Luther, his purer
will now first decisively uttering itself; but, for the present, it was
still as one light-point in an element all of darkness. He says he was a
pious monk, _ich bin ein frommer Monch gewesen_; faithfully, painfully
struggling to work out the truth of this high act of his; but it was to
little purpose. His misery had not lessened; had rather, as it were,
increased into infinitude. The drudgeries he had to do, as novice in his
Convent, all sorts of slave-work, were not his grievance: the deep earnest
soul of the man had fallen into all manner of black scruples, dubitations;
he believed himself likely to die soon, and far worse than die. One hears
with a new interest for poor Luther that, at this time, he lived in terror
of the unspeakable misery; fancied that he was doomed to eternal
reprobation. Was it not the humble sincere nature of the man? What was
he, that he should be raised to Heaven! He that had known only misery, and
mean slavery: the news was too blessed to be credible. It could not
become clear to him how, by fasts, vigils, formalities and mass-work, a
man's soul could be saved. He fell into the blackest wretchedness; had to
wander staggering as on the verge of bottomless Despair.

It must have been a most blessed discovery, that of an old Latin Bible
which he found in the Erfurt Library about this time. He had never seen
the Book before. It taught him another lesson than that of fasts and
vigils. A brother monk too, of pious experience, was helpful. Luther
learned now that a man was saved not by singing masses, but by the infinite
grace of God: a more credible hypothesis. He gradually got himself
founded, as on the rock. No wonder he should venerate the Bible, which had
brought this blessed help to him. He prized it as the Word of the Highest
must be prized by such a man. He determined to hold by that; as through
life and to death he firmly did.

This, then, is his deliverance from darkness, his final triumph over
darkness, what we call his conversion; for himself the most important of
all epochs. That he should now grow daily in peace and clearness; that,
unfolding now the great talents and virtues implanted in him, he should
rise to importance in his Convent, in his country, and be found more and
more useful in all honest business of life, is a natural result. He was
sent on missions by his Augustine Order, as a man of talent and fidelity
fit to do their business well: the Elector of Saxony, Friedrich, named the
Wise, a truly wise and just prince, had cast his eye on him as a valuable
person; made him Professor in his new University of Wittenberg, Preacher
too at Wittenberg; in both which capacities, as in all duties he did, this
Luther, in the peaceable sphere of common life, was gaining more and more
esteem with all good men.

It was in his twenty-seventh year that he first saw Rome; being sent
thither, as I said, on mission from his Convent. Pope Julius the Second,
and what was going on at Rome, must have filled the mind of Luther with
amazement. He had come as to the Sacred City, throne of God's High-priest
on Earth; and he found it--what we know! Many thoughts it must have given
the man; many which we have no record of, which perhaps he did not himself
know how to utter. This Rome, this scene of false priests, clothed not in
the beauty of holiness, but in far other vesture, is _false_: but what is
it to Luther? A mean man he, how shall he reform a world? That was far
from his thoughts. A humble, solitary man, why should he at all meddle
with the world? It was the task of quite higher men than he. His business
was to guide his own footsteps wisely through the world. Let him do his
own obscure duty in it well; the rest, horrible and dismal as it looks, is
in God's hand, not in his.

It is curious to reflect what might have been the issue, had Roman Popery
happened to pass this Luther by; to go on in its great wasteful orbit, and
not come athwart his little path, and force him to assault it! Conceivable
enough that, in this case, he might have held his peace about the abuses of
Rome; left Providence, and God on high, to deal with them! A modest quiet
man; not prompt he to attack irreverently persons in authority. His clear
task, as I say, was to do his own duty; to walk wisely in this world of
confused wickedness, and save his own soul alive. But the Roman
High-priesthood did come athwart him: afar off at Wittenberg he, Luther,
could not get lived in honesty for it; he remonstrated, resisted, came to
extremity; was struck at, struck again, and so it came to wager of battle
between them! This is worth attending to in Luther's history. Perhaps no
man of so humble, peaceable a disposition ever filled the world with
contention. We cannot but see that he would have loved privacy, quiet
diligence in the shade; that it was against his will he ever became a
notoriety. Notoriety: what would that do for him? The goal of his march
through this world was the Infinite Heaven; an indubitable goal for him:
in a few years, he should either have attained that, or lost it forever!
We will say nothing at all, I think, of that sorrowfulest of theories, of
its being some mean shopkeeper grudge, of the Augustine Monk against the
Dominican, that first kindled the wrath of Luther, and produced the
Protestant Reformation. We will say to the people who maintain it, if
indeed any such exist now: Get first into the sphere of thought by which
it is so much as possible to judge of Luther, or of any man like Luther,
otherwise than distractedly; we may then begin arguing with you.

The Monk Tetzel, sent out carelessly in the way of trade, by Leo
Tenth,--who merely wanted to raise a little money, and for the rest seems
to have been a Pagan rather than a Christian, so far as he was
anything,--arrived at Wittenberg, and drove his scandalous trade there.
Luther's flock bought Indulgences; in the confessional of his Church,
people pleaded to him that they had already got their sins pardoned.
Luther, if he would not be found wanting at his own post, a false sluggard
and coward at the very centre of the little space of ground that was his
own and no other man's, had to step forth against Indulgences, and declare
aloud that _they_ were a futility and sorrowful mockery, that no man's sins
could be pardoned by _them_. It was the beginning of the whole
Reformation. We know how it went; forward from this first public challenge
of Tetzel, on the last day of October, 1517, through remonstrance and
argument;--spreading ever wider, rising ever higher; till it became
unquenchable, and enveloped all the world. Luther's heart's desire was to
have this grief and other griefs amended; his thought was still far other
than that of introducing separation in the Church, or revolting against the
Pope, Father of Christendom.--The elegant Pagan Pope cared little about
this Monk and his doctrines; wished, however, to have done with the noise
of him: in a space of some three years, having tried various softer
methods, he thought good to end it by _fire_. He dooms the Monk's writings
to be burnt by the hangman, and his body to be sent bound to
Rome,--probably for a similar purpose. It was the way they had ended with
Huss, with Jerome, the century before. A short argument, fire. Poor Huss:
he came to that Constance Council, with all imaginable promises and
safe-conducts; an earnest, not rebellious kind of man: they laid him
instantly in a stone dungeon "three feet wide, six feet high, seven feet
long;" _burnt_ the true voice of him out of this world; choked it in smoke
and fire. That was _not_ well done!

I, for one, pardon Luther for now altogether revolting against the Pope.
The elegant Pagan, by this fire-decree of his, had kindled into noble just
wrath the bravest heart then living in this world. The bravest, if also
one of the humblest, peaceablest; it was now kindled. These words of mine,
words of truth and soberness, aiming faithfully, as human inability would
allow, to promote God's truth on Earth, and save men's souls, you, God's
vicegerent on earth, answer them by the hangman and fire? You will burn me
and them, for answer to the God's-message they strove to bring you? You
are not God's vicegerent; you are another's than his, I think! I take your
Bull, as an emparchmented Lie, and burn _it_. _You_ will do what you see
good next: this is what I do.--It was on the 10th of December, 1520, three
years after the beginning of the business, that Luther, "with a great
concourse of people," took this indignant step of burning the Pope's
fire-decree "at the Elster-Gate of Wittenberg." Wittenberg looked on "with
shoutings;" the whole world was looking on. The Pope should not have
provoked that "shout"! It was the shout of the awakening of nations. The
quiet German heart, modest, patient of much, had at length got more than it
could bear. Formulism, Pagan Popeism, and other Falsehood and corrupt
Semblance had ruled long enough: and here once more was a man found who
durst tell all men that God's-world stood not on semblances but on
realities; that Life was a truth, and not a lie!

At bottom, as was said above, we are to consider Luther as a Prophet
Idol-breaker; a bringer-back of men to reality. It is the function of
great men and teachers. Mahomet said, These idols of yours are wood; you
put wax and oil on them, the flies stick on them: they are not God, I tell
you, they are black wood! Luther said to the Pope, This thing of yours
that you call a Pardon of Sins, it is a bit of rag-paper with ink. It is
nothing else; it, and so much like it, is nothing else. God alone can
pardon sins. Popeship, spiritual Fatherhood of God's Church, is that a
vain semblance, of cloth and parchment? It is an awful fact. God's Church
is not a semblance, Heaven and Hell are not semblances. I stand on this,
since you drive me to it. Standing on this, I a poor German Monk am
stronger than you all. I stand solitary, friendless, but on God's Truth;
you with your tiaras, triple-hats, with your treasuries and armories,
thunders spiritual and temporal, stand on the Devil's Lie, and are not so

The Diet of Worms, Luther's appearance there on the 17th of April, 1521,
may be considered as the greatest scene in Modern European History; the
point, indeed, from which the whole subsequent history of civilization
takes its rise. After multiplied negotiations, disputations, it had come
to this. The young Emperor Charles Fifth, with all the Princes of Germany,
Papal nuncios, dignitaries spiritual and temporal, are assembled there:
Luther is to appear and answer for himself, whether he will recant or not.
The world's pomp and power sits there on this hand: on that, stands up for
God's Truth, one man, the poor miner Hans Luther's Son. Friends had
reminded him of Huss, advised him not to go; he would not be advised. A
large company of friends rode out to meet him, with still more earnest
warnings; he answered, "Were there as many Devils in Worms as there are
roof-tiles, I would on." The people, on the morrow, as he went to the Hall
of the Diet, crowded the windows and house-tops, some of them calling out
to him, in solemn words, not to recant: "Whosoever denieth me before men!"
they cried to him,--as in a kind of solemn petition and adjuration. Was it
not in reality our petition too, the petition of the whole world, lying in
dark bondage of soul, paralyzed under a black spectral Nightmare and
triple-hatted Chimera, calling itself Father in God, and what not: "Free
us; it rests with thee; desert us not!"

Luther did not desert us. His speech, of two hours, distinguished itself
by its respectful, wise and honest tone; submissive to whatsoever could
lawfully claim submission, not submissive to any more than that. His
writings, he said, were partly his own, partly derived from the Word of
God. As to what was his own, human infirmity entered into it; unguarded
anger, blindness, many things doubtless which it were a blessing for him
could he abolish altogether. But as to what stood on sound truth and the
Word of God, he could not recant it. How could he? "Confute me," he
concluded, "by proofs of Scripture, or else by plain just arguments: I
cannot recant otherwise. For it is neither safe nor prudent to do aught
against conscience. Here stand I; I can do no other: God assist me!"--It
is, as we say, the greatest moment in the Modern History of Men. English
Puritanism, England and its Parliaments, Americas, and vast work these two
centuries; French Revolution, Europe and its work everywhere at present:
the germ of it all lay there: had Luther in that moment done other, it had
all been otherwise! The European World was asking him: Am I to sink ever
lower into falsehood, stagnant putrescence, loathsome accursed death; or,
with whatever paroxysm, to cast the falsehoods out of me, and be cured and

Great wars, contentions and disunion followed out of this Reformation;
which last down to our day, and are yet far from ended. Great talk and
crimination has been made about these. They are lamentable, undeniable;
but after all, what has Luther or his cause to do with them? It seems
strange reasoning to charge the Reformation with all this. When Hercules
turned the purifying river into King Augeas's stables, I have no doubt the
confusion that resulted was considerable all around: but I think it was
not Hercules's blame; it was some other's blame! The Reformation might
bring what results it liked when it came, but the Reformation simply could
not help coming. To all Popes and Popes' advocates, expostulating,
lamenting and accusing, the answer of the world is: Once for all, your
Popehood has become untrue. No matter how good it was, how good you say it
is, we cannot believe it; the light of our whole mind, given us to walk by
from Heaven above, finds it henceforth a thing unbelievable. We will not
believe it, we will not try to believe it,--we dare not! The thing is
_untrue_; we were traitors against the Giver of all Truth, if we durst
pretend to think it true. Away with it; let whatsoever likes come in the
place of it: with _it_ we can have no farther trade!--Luther and his
Protestantism is not responsible for wars; the false Simulacra that forced
him to protest, they are responsible. Luther did what every man that God
has made has not only the right, but lies under the sacred duty, to do:
answered a Falsehood when it questioned him, Dost thou believe me?--No!--At
what cost soever, without counting of costs, this thing behooved to be
done. Union, organization spiritual and material, a far nobler than any
Popedom or Feudalism in their truest days, I never doubt, is coming for the
world; sure to come. But on Fact alone, not on Semblance and Simulacrum,
will it be able either to come, or to stand when come. With union grounded
on falsehood, and ordering us to speak and act lies, we will not have
anything to do. Peace? A brutal lethargy is peaceable, the noisome grave
is peaceable. We hope for a living peace, not a dead one!

And yet, in prizing justly the indispensable blessings of the New, let us
not be unjust to the Old. The Old was true, if it no longer is. In
Dante's days it needed no sophistry, self-blinding or other dishonesty, to
get itself reckoned true. It was good then; nay there is in the soul of it
a deathless good. The cry of "No Popery" is foolish enough in these days.
The speculation that Popery is on the increase, building new chapels and so
forth, may pass for one of the idlest ever started. Very curious: to
count up a few Popish chapels, listen to a few Protestant
logic-choppings,--to much dull-droning drowsy inanity that still calls
itself Protestant, and say: See, Protestantism is _dead_; Popeism is more
alive than it, will be alive after it!--Drowsy inanities, not a few, that
call themselves Protestant are dead; but _Protestantism_ has not died yet,
that I hear of! Protestantism, if we will look, has in these days produced
its Goethe, its Napoleon; German Literature and the French Revolution;
rather considerable signs of life! Nay, at bottom, what else is alive
_but_ Protestantism? The life of most else that one meets is a galvanic
one merely,--not a pleasant, not a lasting sort of life!

Popery can build new chapels; welcome to do so, to all lengths. Popery
cannot come back, any more than Paganism can,--_which_ also still lingers
in some countries. But, indeed, it is with these things, as with the
ebbing of the sea: you look at the waves oscillating hither, thither on
the beach; for _minutes_ you cannot tell how it is going; look in half an
hour where it is,--look in half a century where your Popehood is! Alas,
would there were no greater danger to our Europe than the poor old Pope's
revival! Thor may as soon try to revive.--And withal this oscillation has
a meaning. The poor old Popehood will not die away entirely, as Thor has
done, for some time yet; nor ought it. We may say, the Old never dies till
this happen, Till all the soul of good that was in it have got itself
transfused into the practical New. While a good work remains capable of
being done by the Romish form; or, what is inclusive of all, while a pious
_life_ remains capable of being led by it, just so long, if we consider,
will this or the other human soul adopt it, go about as a living witness of
it. So long it will obtrude itself on the eye of us who reject it, till we
in our practice too have appropriated whatsoever of truth was in it. Then,
but also not till then, it will have no charm more for any man. It lasts
here for a purpose. Let it last as long as it can.--

Of Luther I will add now, in reference to all these wars and bloodshed, the
noticeable fact that none of them began so long as he continued living.
The controversy did not get to fighting so long as he was there. To me it
is proof of his greatness in all senses, this fact. How seldom do we find
a man that has stirred up some vast commotion, who does not himself perish,
swept away in it! Such is the usual course of revolutionists. Luther
continued, in a good degree, sovereign of this greatest revolution; all
Protestants, of what rank or function soever, looking much to him for
guidance: and he held it peaceable, continued firm at the centre of it. A
man to do this must have a kingly faculty: he must have the gift to
discern at all turns where the true heart of the matter lies, and to plant
himself courageously on that, as a strong true man, that other true men may
rally round him there. He will not continue leader of men otherwise.
Luther's clear deep force of judgment, his force of all sorts, of
_silence_, of tolerance and moderation, among others, are very notable in
these circumstances.

Tolerance, I say; a very genuine kind of tolerance: he distinguishes what
is essential, and what is not; the unessential may go very much as it will.
A complaint comes to him that such and such a Reformed Preacher "will not
preach without a cassock." Well, answers Luther, what harm will a cassock
do the man? "Let him have a cassock to preach in; let him have three
cassocks if he find benefit in them!" His conduct in the matter of
Karlstadt's wild image-breaking; of the Anabaptists; of the Peasants' War,
shows a noble strength, very different from spasmodic violence. With sure
prompt insight he discriminates what is what: a strong just man, he speaks
forth what is the wise course, and all men follow him in that. Luther's
Written Works give similar testimony of him. The dialect of these
speculations is now grown obsolete for us; but one still reads them with a
singular attraction. And indeed the mere grammatical diction is still
legible enough; Luther's merit in literary history is of the greatest: his
dialect became the language of all writing. They are not well written,
these Four-and-twenty Quartos of his; written hastily, with quite other
than literary objects. But in no Books have I found a more robust,
genuine, I will say noble faculty of a man than in these. A rugged
honesty, homeliness, simplicity; a rugged sterling sense and strength. He
dashes out illumination from him; his smiting idiomatic phrases seem to
cleave into the very secret of the matter. Good humor too, nay tender
affection, nobleness and depth: this man could have been a Poet too! He
had to _work_ an Epic Poem, not write one. I call him a great Thinker; as
indeed his greatness of heart already betokens that.

Richter says of Luther's words, "His words are half-battles." They may be
called so. The essential quality of him was, that he could fight and
conquer; that he was a right piece of human Valor. No more valiant man, no
mortal heart to be called _braver_, that one has record of, ever lived in
that Teutonic Kindred, whose character is valor. His defiance of the
"Devils" in Worms was not a mere boast, as the like might be if now spoken.
It was a faith of Luther's that there were Devils, spiritual denizens of
the Pit, continually besetting men. Many times, in his writings, this
turns up; and a most small sneer has been grounded on it by some. In the
room of the Wartburg where he sat translating the Bible, they still show
you a black spot on the wall; the strange memorial of one of these
conflicts. Luther sat translating one of the Psalms; he was worn down with
long labor, with sickness, abstinence from food: there rose before him
some hideous indefinable Image, which he took for the Evil One, to forbid
his work: Luther started up, with fiend-defiance; flung his inkstand at
the spectre, and it disappeared! The spot still remains there; a curious
monument of several things. Any apothecary's apprentice can now tell us
what we are to think of this apparition, in a scientific sense: but the
man's heart that dare rise defiant, face to face, against Hell itself, can
give no higher proof of fearlessness. The thing he will quail before
exists not on this Earth or under it.--Fearless enough! "The Devil is
aware," writes he on one occasion, "that this does not proceed out of fear
in me. I have seen and defied innumerable Devils. Duke George," of
Leipzig, a great enemy of his, "Duke George is not equal to one
Devil,"--far short of a Devil! "If I had business at Leipzig, I would ride
into Leipzig, though it rained Duke Georges for nine days running." What a
reservoir of Dukes to ride into!--

At the same time, they err greatly who imagine that this man's courage was
ferocity, mere coarse disobedient obstinacy and savagery, as many do. Far
from that. There may be an absence of fear which arises from the absence
of thought or affection, from the presence of hatred and stupid fury. We
do not value the courage of the tiger highly! With Luther it was far
otherwise; no accusation could be more unjust than this of mere ferocious
violence brought against him. A most gentle heart withal, full of pity and
love, as indeed the truly valiant heart ever is. The tiger before a
_stronger_ foe--flies: the tiger is not what we call valiant, only fierce
and cruel. I know few things more touching than those soft breathings of
affection, soft as a child's or a mother's, in this great wild heart of
Luther. So honest, unadulterated with any cant; homely, rude in their
utterance; pure as water welling from the rock. What, in fact, was all
that down-pressed mood of despair and reprobation, which we saw in his
youth, but the outcome of pre-eminent thoughtful gentleness, affections too
keen and fine? It is the course such men as the poor Poet Cowper fall
into. Luther to a slight observer might have seemed a timid, weak man;
modesty, affectionate shrinking tenderness the chief distinction of him.
It is a noble valor which is roused in a heart like this, once stirred up
into defiance, all kindled into a heavenly blaze.

In Luther's _Table-Talk_, a posthumous Book of anecdotes and sayings
collected by his friends, the most interesting now of all the Books
proceeding from him, we have many beautiful unconscious displays of the
man, and what sort of nature he had. His behavior at the death-bed of his
little Daughter, so still, so great and loving, is among the most affecting
things. He is resigned that his little Magdalene should die, yet longs
inexpressibly that she might live;--follows, in awe-struck thought, the
flight of her little soul through those unknown realms. Awe-struck; most
heartfelt, we can see; and sincere,--for after all dogmatic creeds and
articles, he feels what nothing it is that we know, or can know: His
little Magdalene shall be with God, as God wills; for Luther too that is
all; _Islam_ is all.

Once, he looks out from his solitary Patmos, the Castle of Coburg, in the
middle of the night: The great vault of Immensity, long flights of clouds
sailing through it,--dumb, gaunt, huge:--who supports all that? "None ever
saw the pillars of it; yet it is supported." God supports it. We must
know that God is great, that God is good; and trust, where we cannot
see.--Returning home from Leipzig once, he is struck by the beauty of the
harvest-fields: How it stands, that golden yellow corn, on its fair taper
stem, its golden head bent, all rich and waving there,--the meek Earth, at
God's kind bidding, has produced it once again; the bread of man!--In the
garden at Wittenberg one evening at sunset, a little bird has perched for
the night: That little bird, says Luther, above it are the stars and deep
Heaven of worlds; yet it has folded its little wings; gone trustfully to
rest there as in its home: the Maker of it has given it too a
home!--Neither are mirthful turns wanting: there is a great free human
heart in this man. The common speech of him has a rugged nobleness,
idiomatic, expressive, genuine; gleams here and there with beautiful poetic
tints. One feels him to be a great brother man. His love of Music,
indeed, is not this, as it were, the summary of all these affections in
him? Many a wild unutterability he spoke forth from him in the tones of
his flute. The Devils fled from his flute, he says. Death-defiance on the
one hand, and such love of music on the other; I could call these the two
opposite poles of a great soul; between these two all great things had

Luther's face is to me expressive of him; in Kranach's best portraits I
find the true Luther. A rude plebeian face; with its huge crag-like brows
and bones, the emblem of rugged energy; at first, almost a repulsive face.
Yet in the eyes especially there is a wild silent sorrow; an unnamable
melancholy, the element of all gentle and fine affections; giving to the
rest the true stamp of nobleness. Laughter was in this Luther, as we said;
but tears also were there. Tears also were appointed him; tears and hard
toil. The basis of his life was Sadness, Earnestness. In his latter days,
after all triumphs and victories, he expresses himself heartily weary of
living; he considers that God alone can and will regulate the course things
are taking, and that perhaps the Day of Judgment is not far. As for him,
he longs for one thing: that God would release him from his labor, and let
him depart and be at rest. They understand little of the man who cite this
in discredit of him!--I will call this Luther a true Great Man; great in
intellect, in courage, affection and integrity; one of our most lovable and
precious men. Great, not as a hewn obelisk; but as an Alpine mountain,--so
simple, honest, spontaneous, not setting up to be great at all; there for
quite another purpose than being great! Ah yes, unsubduable granite,
piercing far and wide into the Heavens; yet in the clefts of it fountains,
green beautiful valleys with flowers! A right Spiritual Hero and Prophet;
once more, a true Son of Nature and Fact, for whom these centuries, and
many that are to come yet, will be thankful to Heaven.

The most interesting phasis which the Reformation anywhere assumes,
especially for us English, is that of Puritanism. In Luther's own country
Protestantism soon dwindled into a rather barren affair: not a religion or
faith, but rather now a theological jangling of argument, the proper seat
of it not the heart; the essence of it sceptical contention: which indeed
has jangled more and more, down to Voltaireism itself,--through
Gustavus-Adolphus contentions onwards to French-Revolution ones! But in
our Island there arose a Puritanism, which even got itself established as a
Presbyterianism and National Church among the Scotch; which came forth as a
real business of the heart; and has produced in the world very notable
fruit. In some senses, one may say it is the only phasis of Protestantism
that ever got to the rank of being a Faith, a true heart-communication with
Heaven, and of exhibiting itself in History as such. We must spare a few
words for Knox; himself a brave and remarkable man; but still more
important as Chief Priest and Founder, which one may consider him to be, of
the Faith that became Scotland's, New England's, Oliver Cromwell's.
History will have something to say about this, for some time to come!

We may censure Puritanism as we please; and no one of us, I suppose, but
would find it a very rough defective thing. But we, and all men, may
understand that it was a genuine thing; for Nature has adopted it, and it
has grown, and grows. I say sometimes, that all goes by wager-of-battle in
this world; that _strength_, well understood, is the measure of all worth.
Give a thing time; if it can succeed, it is a right thing. Look now at
American Saxondom; and at that little Fact of the sailing of the Mayflower,
two hundred years ago, from Delft Haven in Holland! Were we of open sense
as the Greeks were, we had found a Poem here; one of Nature's own Poems,
such as she writes in broad facts over great continents. For it was
properly the beginning of America: there were straggling settlers in
America before, some material as of a body was there; but the soul of it
was first this. These poor men, driven out of their own country, not able
well to live in Holland, determine on settling in the New World. Black
untamed forests are there, and wild savage creatures; but not so cruel as
Star-chamber hangmen. They thought the Earth would yield them food, if
they tilled honestly; the everlasting heaven would stretch, there too,
overhead; they should be left in peace, to prepare for Eternity by living
well in this world of Time; worshipping in what they thought the true, not
the idolatrous way. They clubbed their small means together; hired a ship,
the little ship Mayflower, and made ready to set sail.

In Neal's _History of the Puritans_ [Neal (London, 1755), i. 490] is an
account of the ceremony of their departure: solemnity, we might call it
rather, for it was a real act of worship. Their minister went down with
them to the beach, and their brethren whom they were to leave behind; all
joined in solemn prayer, That God would have pity on His poor children, and
go with them into that waste wilderness, for He also had made that, He was
there also as well as here.--Hah! These men, I think, had a work! The
weak thing, weaker than a child, becomes strong one day, if it be a true
thing. Puritanism was only despicable, laughable then; but nobody can
manage to laugh at it now. Puritanism has got weapons and sinews; it has
firearms, war-navies; it has cunning in its ten fingers, strength in its
right arm; it can steer ships, fell forests, remove mountains;--it is one
of the strongest things under this sun at present!

In the history of Scotland, too, I can find properly but one epoch: we may
say, it contains nothing of world-interest at all but this Reformation by
Knox. A poor barren country, full of continual broils, dissensions,
massacrings; a people in the last state of rudeness and destitution; little
better perhaps than Ireland at this day. Hungry fierce barons, not so much
as able to form any arrangement with each other _how to divide_ what they
fleeced from these poor drudges; but obliged, as the Colombian Republics
are at this day, to make of every alteration a revolution; no way of
changing a ministry but by hanging the old ministers on gibbets: this is a
historical spectacle of no very singular significance! "Bravery" enough, I
doubt not; fierce fighting in abundance: but not braver or fiercer than
that of their old Scandinavian Sea-king ancestors; _whose_ exploits we have
not found worth dwelling on! It is a country as yet without a soul:
nothing developed in it but what is rude, external, semi-animal. And now
at the Reformation, the internal life is kindled, as it were, under the
ribs of this outward material death. A cause, the noblest of causes
kindles itself, like a beacon set on high; high as Heaven, yet attainable
from Earth;--whereby the meanest man becomes not a Citizen only, but a
Member of Christ's visible Church; a veritable Hero, if he prove a true

Well; this is what I mean by a whole "nation of heroes;" a _believing_
nation. There needs not a great soul to make a hero; there needs a
god-created soul which will be true to its origin; that will be a great
soul! The like has been seen, we find. The like will be again seen, under
wider forms than the Presbyterian: there can be no lasting good done till
then.--Impossible! say some. Possible? Has it not _been_, in this world,
as a practiced fact? Did Hero-worship fail in Knox's case? Or are we made
of other clay now? Did the Westminster Confession of Faith add some new
property to the soul of man? God made the soul of man. He did not doom
any soul of man to live as a Hypothesis and Hearsay, in a world filled with
such, and with the fatal work and fruit of such!--

But to return: This that Knox did for his Nation, I say, we may really
call a resurrection as from death. It was not a smooth business; but it
was welcome surely, and cheap at that price, had it been far rougher. On
the whole, cheap at any price!--as life is. The people began to _live_:
they needed first of all to do that, at what cost and costs soever. Scotch
Literature and Thought, Scotch Industry; James Watt, David Hume, Walter
Scott, Robert Burns: I find Knox and the Reformation acting in the heart's
core of every one of these persons and phenomena; I find that without the
Reformation they would not have been. Or what of Scotland? The Puritanism
of Scotland became that of England, of New England. A tumult in the High
Church of Edinburgh spread into a universal battle and struggle over all
these realms;--there came out, after fifty years' struggling, what we all
call the "_Glorious_ Revolution" a _Habeas Corpus_ Act, Free Parliaments,
and much else!--Alas, is it not too true what we said, That many men in the
van do always, like Russian soldiers, march into the ditch of Schweidnitz,
and fill it up with their dead bodies, that the rear may pass over them
dry-shod, and gain the honor? How many earnest rugged Cromwells, Knoxes,
poor Peasant Covenanters, wrestling, battling for very life, in rough miry
places, have to struggle, and suffer, and fall, greatly censured,
_bemired_,--before a beautiful Revolution of Eighty-eight can step over
them in official pumps and silk-stockings, with universal

It seems to me hard measure that this Scottish man, now after three hundred
years, should have to plead like a culprit before the world; intrinsically
for having been, in such way as it was then possible to be, the bravest of
all Scotchmen! Had he been a poor Half-and-half, he could have crouched
into the corner, like so many others; Scotland had not been delivered; and
Knox had been without blame. He is the one Scotchman to whom, of all
others, his country and the world owe a debt. He has to plead that
Scotland would forgive him for having been worth to it any million
"unblamable" Scotchmen that need no forgiveness! He bared his breast to
the battle; had to row in French galleys, wander forlorn in exile, in
clouds and storms; was censured, shot at through his windows; had a right
sore fighting life: if this world were his place of recompense, he had
made but a bad venture of it. I cannot apologize for Knox. To him it is
very indifferent, these two hundred and fifty years or more, what men say
of him. But we, having got above all those details of his battle, and
living now in clearness on the fruits of his victory, we, for our own sake,
ought to look through the rumors and controversies enveloping the man, into
the man himself.

For one thing, I will remark that this post of Prophet to his Nation was
not of his seeking; Knox had lived forty years quietly obscure, before he
became conspicuous. He was the son of poor parents; had got a college
education; become a Priest; adopted the Reformation, and seemed well
content to guide his own steps by the light of it, nowise unduly intruding
it on others. He had lived as Tutor in gentlemen's families; preaching
when any body of persons wished to hear his doctrine: resolute he to walk
by the truth, and speak the truth when called to do it; not ambitious of
more; not fancying himself capable of more. In this entirely obscure way
he had reached the age of forty; was with the small body of Reformers who
were standing siege in St. Andrew's Castle,--when one day in their chapel,
the Preacher after finishing his exhortation to these fighters in the
forlorn hope, said suddenly, That there ought to be other speakers, that
all men who had a priest's heart and gift in them ought now to
speak;--which gifts and heart one of their own number, John Knox the name
of him, had: Had he not? said the Preacher, appealing to all the audience:
what then is _his_ duty? The people answered affirmatively; it was a
criminal forsaking of his post, if such a man held the word that was in him
silent. Poor Knox was obliged to stand up; he attempted to reply; he could
say no word;--burst into a flood of tears, and ran out. It is worth
remembering, that scene. He was in grievous trouble for some days. He
felt what a small faculty was his for this great work. He felt what a
baptism he was called to be baptized withal. He "burst into tears."

Our primary characteristic of a Hero, that he is sincere, applies
emphatically to Knox. It is not denied anywhere that this, whatever might
be his other qualities or faults, is among the truest of men. With a
singular instinct he holds to the truth and fact; the truth alone is there
for him, the rest a mere shadow and deceptive nonentity. However feeble,
forlorn the reality may seem, on that and that only _can_ he take his
stand. In the Galleys of the River Loire, whither Knox and the others,
after their Castle of St. Andrew's was taken, had been sent as
Galley-slaves,--some officer or priest, one day, presented them an Image of
the Virgin Mother, requiring that they, the blasphemous heretics, should do
it reverence. Mother? Mother of God? said Knox, when the turn came to
him: This is no Mother of God: this is "_a pented bredd_,"--_a_ piece of
wood, I tell you, with paint on it! She is fitter for swimming, I think,
than for being worshipped, added Knox; and flung the thing into the river.
It was not very cheap jesting there: but come of it what might, this thing
to Knox was and must continue nothing other than the real truth; it was a
_pented bredd_: worship it he would not.

He told his fellow-prisoners, in this darkest time, to be of courage; the
Cause they had was the true one, and must and would prosper; the whole
world could not put it down. Reality is of God's making; it is alone
strong. How many _pented bredds_, pretending to be real, are fitter to
swim than to be worshipped!--This Knox cannot live but by fact: he clings
to reality as the shipwrecked sailor to the cliff. He is an instance to us
how a man, by sincerity itself, becomes heroic: it is the grand gift he
has. We find in Knox a good honest intellectual talent, no transcendent
one;--a narrow, inconsiderable man, as compared with Luther: but in
heartfelt instinctive adherence to truth, in _sincerity_, as we say, he has
no superior; nay, one might ask, What equal he has? The heart of him is of
the true Prophet cast. "He lies there," said the Earl of Morton at his
grave, "who never feared the face of man." He resembles, more than any of
the moderns, an Old-Hebrew Prophet. The same inflexibility, intolerance,
rigid narrow-looking adherence to God's truth, stern rebuke in the name of
God to all that forsake truth: an Old-Hebrew Prophet in the guise of an
Edinburgh Minister of the Sixteenth Century. We are to take him for that;
not require him to be other.

Knox's conduct to Queen Mary, the harsh visits he used to make in her own
palace, to reprove her there, have been much commented upon. Such cruelty,
such coarseness fills us with indignation. On reading the actual narrative
of the business, what Knox said, and what Knox meant, I must say one's
tragic feeling is rather disappointed. They are not so coarse, these
speeches; they seem to me about as fine as the circumstances would permit!
Knox was not there to do the courtier; he came on another errand. Whoever,
reading these colloquies of his with the Queen, thinks they are vulgar
insolences of a plebeian priest to a delicate high lady, mistakes the
purport and essence of them altogether. It was unfortunately not possible
to be polite with the Queen of Scotland, unless one proved untrue to the
Nation and Cause of Scotland. A man who did not wish to see the land of
his birth made a hunting-field for intriguing ambitious Guises, and the
Cause of God trampled underfoot of Falsehoods, Formulas and the Devil's
Cause, had no method of making himself agreeable! "Better that women
weep," said Morton, "than that bearded men be forced to weep." Knox was
the constitutional opposition-party in Scotland: the Nobles of the
country, called by their station to take that post, were not found in it;
Knox had to go, or no one. The hapless Queen;--but the still more hapless
Country, if _she_ were made happy! Mary herself was not without sharpness
enough, among her other qualities: "Who are you," said she once, "that
presume to school the nobles and sovereign of this realm?"--"Madam, a
subject born within the same," answered he. Reasonably answered! If the
"subject" have truth to speak, it is not the "subject's" footing that will
fail him here.--

We blame Knox for his intolerance. Well, surely it is good that each of us
be as tolerant as possible. Yet, at bottom, after all the talk there is
and has been about it, what is tolerance? Tolerance has to tolerate the
unessential; and to see well what that is. Tolerance has to be noble,
measured, just in its very wrath, when it can tolerate no longer. But, on
the whole, we are not altogether here to tolerate! We are here to resist,
to control and vanquish withal. We do not "tolerate" Falsehoods,
Thieveries, Iniquities, when they fasten on us; we say to them, Thou art
false, thou art not tolerable! We are here to extinguish Falsehoods, and
put an end to them, in some wise way! I will not quarrel so much with the
way; the doing of the thing is our great concern. In this sense Knox was,
full surely, intolerant.

A man sent to row in French Galleys, and such like, for teaching the Truth
in his own land, cannot always be in the mildest humor! I am not prepared
to say that Knox had a soft temper; nor do I know that he had what we call
an ill temper. An ill nature he decidedly had not. Kind honest affections
dwelt in the much-enduring, hard-worn, ever-battling man. That he _could_
rebuke Queens, and had such weight among those proud turbulent Nobles,
proud enough whatever else they were; and could maintain to the end a kind
of virtual Presidency and Sovereignty in that wild realm, he who was only
"a subject born within the same:" this of itself will prove to us that he
was found, close at hand, to be no mean acrid man; but at heart a
healthful, strong, sagacious man. Such alone can bear rule in that kind.
They blame him for pulling down cathedrals, and so forth, as if he were a
seditious rioting demagogue: precisely the reverse is seen to be the fact,
in regard to cathedrals and the rest of it, if we examine! Knox wanted no
pulling down of stone edifices; he wanted leprosy and darkness to be thrown
out of the lives of men. Tumult was not his element; it was the tragic
feature of his life that he was forced to dwell so much in that. Every
such man is the born enemy of Disorder; hates to be in it: but what then?
Smooth Falsehood is not Order; it is the general sum-total of Disorder.
Order is _Truth_,--each thing standing on the basis that belongs to it:
Order and Falsehood cannot subsist together.

Withal, unexpectedly enough, this Knox has a vein of drollery in him; which
I like much, in combination with his other qualities. He has a true eye
for the ridiculous. His _History_, with its rough earnestness, is
curiously enlivened with this. When the two Prelates, entering Glasgow
Cathedral, quarrel about precedence; march rapidly up, take to hustling one
another, twitching one another's rochets, and at last flourishing their
crosiers like quarter-staves, it is a great sight for him every way! Not
mockery, scorn, bitterness alone; though there is enough of that too. But
a true, loving, illuminating laugh mounts up over the earnest visage; not a
loud laugh; you would say, a laugh in the _eyes_ most of all. An
honest-hearted, brotherly man; brother to the high, brother also to the
low; sincere in his sympathy with both. He had his pipe of Bourdeaux too,
we find, in that old Edinburgh house of his; a cheery social man, with
faces that loved him! They go far wrong who think this Knox was a gloomy,
spasmodic, shrieking fanatic. Not at all: he is one of the solidest of
men. Practical, cautious-hopeful, patient; a most shrewd, observing,
quietly discerning man. In fact, he has very much the type of character we
assign to the Scotch at present: a certain sardonic taciturnity is in him;
insight enough; and a stouter heart than he himself knows of. He has the
power of holding his peace over many things which do not vitally concern
him,--"They? what are they?" But the thing which does vitally concern him,
that thing he will speak of; and in a tone the whole world shall be made to
hear: all the more emphatic for his long silence.

This Prophet of the Scotch is to me no hateful man!--He had a sore fight of
an existence; wrestling with Popes and Principalities; in defeat,
contention, life-long struggle; rowing as a galley-slave, wandering as an
exile. A sore fight: but he won it. "Have you hope?" they asked him in
his last moment, when he could no longer speak. He lifted his finger,
"pointed upwards with his finger," and so died. Honor to him! His works
have not died. The letter of his work dies, as of all men's; but the
spirit of it never.

One word more as to the letter of Knox's work. The unforgivable offence in
him is, that he wished to set up Priests over the head of Kings. In other
words, he strove to make the Government of Scotland a _Theocracy_. This
indeed is properly the sum of his offences, the essential sin; for which
what pardon can there be? It is most true, he did, at bottom, consciously
or unconsciously, mean a Theocracy, or Government of God. He did mean that
Kings and Prime Ministers, and all manner of persons, in public or private,
diplomatizing or whatever else they might be doing, should walk according
to the Gospel of Christ, and understand that this was their Law, supreme
over all laws. He hoped once to see such a thing realized; and the
Petition, _Thy Kingdom come_, no longer an empty word. He was sore grieved
when he saw greedy worldly Barons clutch hold of the Church's property;
when he expostulated that it was not secular property, that it was
spiritual property, and should be turned to _true_ churchly uses,
education, schools, worship;--and the Regent Murray had to answer, with a
shrug of the shoulders, "It is a devout imagination!" This was Knox's
scheme of right and truth; this he zealously endeavored after, to realize
it. If we think his scheme of truth was too narrow, was not true, we may
rejoice that he could not realize it; that it remained after two centuries
of effort, unrealizable, and is a "devout imagination" still. But how
shall we blame _him_ for struggling to realize it? Theocracy, Government
of God, is precisely the thing to be struggled for! All Prophets, zealous
Priests, are there for that purpose. Hildebrand wished a Theocracy;
Cromwell wished it, fought for it; Mahomet attained it. Nay, is it not
what all zealous men, whether called Priests, Prophets, or whatsoever else
called, do essentially wish, and must wish? That right and truth, or God's
Law, reign supreme among men, this is the Heavenly Ideal (well named in
Knox's time, and namable in all times, a revealed "Will of God") towards
which the Reformer will insist that all be more and more approximated. All
true Reformers, as I said, are by the nature of them Priests, and strive
for a Theocracy.

How far such Ideals can ever be introduced into Practice, and at what point
our impatience with their non-introduction ought to begin, is always a
question. I think we may say safely, Let them introduce themselves as far
as they can contrive to do it! If they are the true faith of men, all men
ought to be more or less impatient always where they are not found
introduced. There will never be wanting Regent Murrays enough to shrug
their shoulders, and say, "A devout imagination!" We will praise the
Hero-priest rather, who does what is in him to bring them in; and wears
out, in toil, calumny, contradiction, a noble life, to make a God's Kingdom
of this Earth. The Earth will not become too godlike!

Thomas Carlyle

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