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Like it or not, we have got to face it. New England is what we would have called till lately an alien corner of the country. It is a New Europe rather than a New England now. If we pine for an untainted AngloSaxon survival, we shall have to seek it among the unspoiled mountaineers of North Carolina and Tennessee. But they do not belong to the live, present-day America; they are apart from it. The main currents of the New Americanism pass them by.
Republican? Democrat? Prohibitionist or Socialist? Mere unmeaning names just now. Even American is too small for the world-emergency except as it is a synonym for liberty and democracy.
There are 168 religious denominations in the United States. There are 15 kinds of Baptists, 21 kinds of Lutherans, 12 kinds of Presbyterians, 15 kinds of Methodists. There is one religious need, one religious aspiration; it is the desire to simplify and intensify man's relations with the Eternal Power.
Wake up, America! Slough off the nonessentials. Get down to brass tacks. Live simply, think sincerely, give all you have of mind and strength to the one task before which every other task pales.
When a casual, personal letter from a layman reveals such depths and outreachings of thought and feeling, what should be the attitude of men who have been publicly ordained and are publicly supported as the spiritual interpreters of life? When the laity are thinking in loftier and wider terms than the clergy, how long will they tolerate a laggard ministry?
Within twenty-four hours of the receipt of the above letter another one of absorbing interest came from Mesopotamia. The writer is a British staff officer somewhere on the Tigris. He writes of things so weird, so heroic, so tragic, that but for a sure knowledge of his reliability they would be unbelievable. His concluding paragraph has such an unexpectedly verbal confirmation of the conviction of the New England editor, 'only essentials count,'
that it seems as if the ends of the earth were in collusion. 'It is difficult to believe in God these days — but I do. I believe He has been good to me and mine. That and my faith in my wife and my country, are all that are worth having. You and I and other men have had many fetters broken these last few years, thank God! Because, after all, only essentials count, and I have a hold on the three real ones.'
Can the Christian ministry realize that in the midst of this disheveled and amazed world 'only essentials count'? Has the Christian ministry the courage to forsake everything, even the established habits of long years of happy peace, and settle down to a grapple with the facts which are driving deep into the souls of men? No one is asking for conservation or for construction today; no one expects that the old things, even those held most sacred, can survive in their familiar form, and no one has the audacity to think that a new structure can be built while the former one is still crashing upon his head. But men everywhere are groping for the essential things, they are demanding an immediate and a spiritual interpretation of the awful drama in which they are both voluntary and involuntary participants. They must have it or lose both reason and faith. In another letter from the same writer in Mesopotamia there occurs this sentence: 'It is sometimes hard to believe in Calvary, but the greatest proof of all is at hand. If the world is not redeemed this time, then I lay down my Bible and my faith and I'll go out of life drunk. 'Cos, thank God, when everything else is gone one can always flog one's brain to the last leap!'
Was there ever a time when the race had such a crimson commentary upon Calvary? Why not seize it boldly and use the glorious exegesis without apology, instead of dabbling in vague hy
potheses about the moral influence of vicarious suffering? The men of Liége, of Mons, of the Marne, of the Somme, of the Yser, of the Tigris, of the Piave, have surely established forever that life is won by death. Redemption, in both a physical and a spiritual sense, has ceased to be a dogma by becoming the most thrilling fact in present-day consciousness. There are millions of families in America, proud and brave enough as they face their fellows, but with a Gethsemane in their souls, in which they wait for the interpreting word. What interest they ever had in the extreme subjectivity of religious experience has been lost in the shadows cast by grim objective realities.
Other men are asking what guaranties there are for the invincibility of truth, the inviolability of honor, and the immutability of righteousness; they see the clouds and darkness which are round about the Eternal, but they are anxious for confirmation that righteousness and justice are the habitation of his throne; they ask for evidence to supplant credence. With other things German, 'value judgments' have gone by the board. Men and women have also done with shibboleths. Democracy itself must be defined. When our administration, placed in office during the days of peace, proceeds to govern in a fashion which has more than the tang of despotism, citizens want to know what differentiates democracy from autocracy. Unless it is proved that there is a spiritual necessity in the temporary curtailment of liberties, the will of the Republic must sometimes rebel; unless the higher law of waived prerogative-free, yet not using your freedom' is made apparent, there will be a sagging of the resolution which carried us into the conflict. Hence Russia needs interpretation; the socialistic idealism which became so immediately self-conscious that it
changed into individual materialism, a suicidal system of land-grabbing, forgetful of collective honor or obligation or opportunity.
Such questions invade the soul. In their wake follow a thousand others: What new motive has come into our patriotism, causing our youth to spring forward with a cry of gladness to face the utmost of sacrifice? Why are even the untaught multitudes accepting limitations in food, in fuel, in their narrow pleasures, without the mutterings and murmurings which the proletariat have always considered their privilege? Why are capital and labor alike showing such unexpected docility toward the government? Why are constitutional problems, like the extension of the franchise to women and the prohibition of intoxicating liquors, making strides which even the wildest fanatic would not have predicted ten years ago? Scarcely a phase or ramification of personal, social, or industrial life but demands a new reading; the most mundane things are capable of bearing a spiritual connotation; every disparted and refracted ray of knowledge is ready to reblend into the pure white light of wisdom.
If the devotions and the discipline of the clergy have not fitted them to lead the people when these and kindred questionings are articulate and insistent, what place can the ministry expect to hold, or what vital part is it likely to play, in the cosmic rehabilitation which must follow the war? Spiritual opportunities such as those of today come but rarely in the life of the race; common and even gross men are now willing to think and act upon a lofty plane which the choicest saints and most intrepid thinkers hardly reached in days gone by; a manumitted mob has crossed the Red Sea and asks the nearest way to the Promised Land.
ADVENTURES IN INDIGENCE. I
BY LAURA SPENCER PORTOR
BOTH Stevenson and Lamb, writing of 'Beggars,' fall into what I take to be a grave misapprehension. They both write a defense, and constitute themselves advocates. Lamb brilliantly solicits our pity for these 'pensioners on our bounty'; Stevenson, though he characteristically makes himself comrade and brother of his client, and presents the 'humbuggery' of the accused as a legitimate art, nevertheless thinks himself but too evidently of a higher order, and the better gentleman of the two. Here, and it would seem in spite of himself, are patronage and condescension.
I own such an attitude shocks me and makes me apprehensive. Were I superstitious, of a certain creed, I should cross myself to ward off calamity; or were I a Greek of the ancient times, I should certainly pour a propitiatory libation to Hermes, god of wayfarers, thieves, vagabonds, mendicants, and the like. Poor wretches,' indeed! 'Pensioners,' they! 'Ragamuffins! humbugs!' They, with their occult powers! They, mind you, needing our advocacy! I could indeed bear a different testimony.
I think I began first to know the power of the poor, and to fall under their sway, when I was certainly not more than six years old. It must have been about then that I was learning to sew. This seems to have been a profession to which I was so temperamentally disinclined that my mother, to sweeten
the task, was wont during the performance of it to read to me. While I sat on a hassock at her feet scooping an unwilling perpendicular needle in and out of difficult hems, my mother would read from one of many little chapbooks and children's tracts, which were kept commonly in a flat wicker darning-basket in her wardrobe; little paper books held over from her own and her mother's childhood. They were illustrated with quaint woodcuts, and the covers of them were colored. I was allowed to choose which one was to be read.
One day-because the time was ripe,' I suppose I selected a little petunia-colored one, outwardly very pleasing to my fancy. It contained the story and the pictures of a miserable beggar and a haughty and unfeeling little girl. He was in rags and reclined, from feebleness I fancy, on the pavement; she walked proudly in a full-skirted dress, strapped slippers, and pantalets. She wore a dipping leghorn with streamers. Just over this she carried a most proud parasol, just under it a nose aristocratically, it may even be said unduly, high in the air.
I think I need not dwell on the tale, save to say that it was one of the genus known as 'moral.' There was only one ending possible to the story; the triumph of humility, the downfall of pride and prosperity; swift and awful retribution falling upon her of the leghorn and pantalets. I believe they allowed her in the last picture a pallet
of straw, a ragged petticoat, bare feet, clasped hands, and a prayerful reconciliation with her Maker. The story was rendered distinctly poignant for me by the fact that I possessed a parasol of pink pinked silk,' which was held on Sundays and certain other occasions proudly - it also-over a leghorn with streamers which dipped back and front exactly as did the little girl's in the story. But never, never, -once I had made the acquaintance of that story,
was my nose carried
haughtily under it when by chance I sighted one of that race so numerous and so ancient, so well known and so little known to us all. From that day I began to know the power of the poor.
I can remember delectable candies that I did not buy, delicious soft cocoanut sticks that I never tasted, joys that I relinquished, hopes that I deferred, for the questionable but tyrannous comfort of a penny in an alien tin cup, and the inevitable 'God bless you, little lady!' which, remembering her of the leghorn and pantalets, I knew to be of necessity more desirable than the delights I forewent.
There was an old blind man there in my home town, whom I remember very keenly. He used to go up and down, he and his dog, in front of the only caravansary the place boasted, Hotel Latonia, -tap-tap, tap-tapping. He had the peculiar stiff hesitating walk of the blind, the strange expectant upward tilt of the face. He wore across his shoulder a strap on which was fastened a little tin cup.
I used to see the drummers and leisurely men of a certain order, their chairs tilted back against the hotel wall, their heels in the chair-rungs, their hats on the back of their heads, their thumbs in their arm-holes, their cigars tilted indifferently to heaven, and they even cracking their jokes and
slapping their knees and roaring with laughter, or perhaps yawning, perfectly unaware of the blind man, it seemed, while he passed by slowly, tap-tap, taptapping.
But it was never thus with me. His cane tapped, not only on the pavement, but directly on my heart. You could have heard it, had you put your ear there. It may have seemed that his eyes were turned to the sky. That was but a kind of physical delusion. I knew better. In some occult way they were searching me out and finding me. I can give you no idea of the command of the thing. Perhaps I have no need to. Your own childhood-it is not improbable- may have been under a similar dominion.
If I thought to experiment and withhold my penny, I might escape the blind man for a while; I might elude him, for instance, while the other members of the family and the guests in that old home of my childhood were gay and talkative at the supper table; or afterward, when laughter and song drowned the lesser sounds; or while I stood safe in the loved shelter of my father's arm, listening to conversations I enjoyed, even though I could not understand them; or while, in the more intimate evenings, he took his flute from its case, screwed its wonderful parts together, and, his fingers rising and falling with magic and precision on the joined wood and ivory, played 'Mary of Argyle' until I too heard the mavis singing. But later, later, when I lay alone in my bed in the nursery in the moonlight, or, if it were winter, in the waning firelight and the creeping shadows, then, then there came up the stairs and through the rooms the sound of the blind man's cane, tap-tap, taptapping. He had come for his penny. And the next time I saw him, with a chastened spirit and a sense of escape, I gave him two.
But my own childish subserviency to the poor did not give me so great a sense of their power as my mother's relation to them. She, it seems, was perpetually at their service. Let them but raise a hand indicating their need ever so slightly, and she moved in quick obedience, although it seemed she too must sometimes have wearied of such service. Guests were many and frequent in that old home, as I have elsewhere told; but these came either by announcement or by invitation; the poor, on the contrary, came unasked, unannounced, and exactly when they chose, as by royal prerogative. Indeed, many a time I have seen my mother excuse herself to a guest, to wait sympathetically upon a man or a woman with a basket-it might be the queen of the gypsies, with vivid memorable face; or the Wandering Jew in the very flesh; or it might be Kathleen ni Houlihan herself, all Erin looking out, haunting you, from her tragic old eyes-offering soap or laces at exorbitant prices, or other less useful wares, tendered for sale and excuse at the kitchen door.
There was one whom I especially remember Musgrove. He was a fine marquis of a man, was Musgrove, as slender as a fiddle and with as neat a waist. He used to come to the front door and sit by the old hall clock, waiting my mother's pleasure. He had a wife and seven or nine children, and a marvelous multiplicity of woes. There was a generosity and spaciousness about the calamities of Musgrove something mythopoeic, promethean. Tragedies befell him with consistent abundance. Four or five of the seven or nine had broken their arms, almost put out their eyes, or had just escaped by a hair's breadth from permanent blanketmortgage disability when the floor of the cottage they lived in fell through;
or they had been all but carried off wholesale by measles. Once all nine, as I remember it, were poisoned en gros by Sunday-school-picnic ice-cream, which left the children of others untouched. Only myths were comparable. Niobe alone, and she not altogether successfully, could have matched calamities with him.
By and by Time itself, I think, wearied of Musgrove. I think my mother, sympathetic as she was, must have come to think the arrows of outrageous fortune were falling far too thick for likelihood, even on so shining a mark as Musgrove. She came from interviews with him with a kind of gentle weariness. But Musgrove, I am very sure, had an eye for the drama. He knew his exits and his entrances, and I have reason to believe no shade of feeling in my mother's face was lost upon him.
He came one day to say good-bye; his shabbiness heightened, but brightened also, by a red cravat. It was safe now, no doubt, to allow himself this gayety. He knew that my mother would be glad to hear that, through the kindness of some one nearly as kind as herself, he had been able to obtain a position in a large city. He lacked but the money to move. After that prosperity would be his.
My mother did not deny him his chance, Musgrove himself, you see, having contrived it so that the chance was not without a certain advantage and privilege for her. So he made his fine bow, and he and his fine marquis
manners were gone.
I think my mother must have missed him. I know I did. The other pensioners came as regularly as ever — the gypsy with her grimy laces; the Jew with his tins and soap; rheumatic darkies by the dozen, frankly empty-handed; the little girl with the thin legs and with the black shawl pinned over her