The Incentive Of Tomorrow
( Originally Published 1912 )
"The earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. We are saved by hope." —PAUL.
The doctrine of evolution possesses a two-fold merit. It is a rational explanation of the method of creation in the past and it is an encouragement and expectation for the present and the future. The scene that it presents to view is one of an endless advance. There is progressive change; the incessant unfolding of new energies. From the mollusk to man there is a constant ascent in the scale of being, the production of nobler forms, the flowering of greater faculties. The fine has been superseded by the finer and the superlative has never been reached, but has always been a days march in advance. Although recently nature has produced no new species and the physical form of man has not greatly changed since the cave men or the Lake Dwellers were on earth, yet the method of )progressive change has continued. It has manifested itself in the unfolding of higher mental and spiritual powers, in the coming of languages, religions, literatures, laws, homes, and in all the arts covering earth with their myriad forms of use and beauty.
This method should dispel all despair in that it points to the future as containing the best. The past was defective; the present is less defective; and we cannot avoid the expectation that the future will remedy some of the defects now present. As at the call of Spring the song-birds fly northward, so the human spirit flies toward the future in its search for the perfect. Thus Tomorrow is a great incentive to mankind.
Many and varied are the mental and emotional powers of human life. Pure reason, practical under-standing, memory, imagination, fancy, wit, humor, appreciation of the beautiful and good, eloquent speech, patience, love, trust, will and courage are to be numbered among its resources. But not the least valuable among them is the power of casting itself forward beyond its present confines.
Schoolcraft and Parkman have told us of the wonderful sign language of the Indians. It was understood by all the tribes that once roamed over the western plains. When they wished to speak of any calamity, as of famine or pestilence, they would stoop and place the hands upon the ground. When the conditions began to mend they would raise the hands a little higher. When the misfortune had wholly disappeared they would convey the news to a neighboring tribe or to the white trappers by holding the hands as high as possible. This is what hope does for mankind. It lifts him out of the dust and makes him point upward.
experience is an exact and austere teacher. We are instructed by hard and rugged facts; we are forced to believe in prudence and mathematics and supply and demand and in all practical things. Yet, in most persons, there seems to be something that cannot be reduced to a maxim or the rules of mathematics or worldly prudence and which experience never taught them. There is a certain poetry that plays all over and all through our most practical affairs, and is some-times able to convert the most unwelcome and unpromising fact into something benign and beautiful. What one is there among us, whose work was just on the point of becoming hateful, who has not suddenly found it illuminated and inviting and to engage in it was a delight? Sometimes we think we are living only by experience and have done with all illusions and promises. Henceforth we are proof against all surprises; we are determined to take things as they come and expect nothing better of the future. But this mood soon passes. We are like travelers through a forest. They know how many miles they must travel to reach their destination; how much distance can be passed over in an hour; that only by one persistent step following another, for a given length of time, can the march be accomplished. Nevertheless what interest do they take in each bend or rise in the road, giving a new and encouraging outlook, and how they wonder if the next turn or the next hill will not reveal more definite prospect of the journey's end!
It is this belief in better things that makes life, not only bearable, but, for much of the time, a delight. No hour is so dark but that some light is seen kindling on its edge. It is this that keeps man from becoming a suicide. Riches may fly away; friends may leave us alone on the earth; reputation may be lost; but, after a time, the heart again moves forward. Over the well constructed ship sometimes a great wave will roll sub-merging all its great machinery and its many passengers. All are under the deep; but all is well, for the buoyancy of the ship soon lifts her and her precious freight above the temporary darkness. Such buoyancy is in the sane heart. Like the ship, after the first shock is over it rights itself and keeps on its course assured that placid and sunny seas lie just beyond the storm belt. This is a blessed quality of life, enabling the heart to predict the coming of better conditions. It is easy to see whence came the myth of Pandora and her box of treasures. It came from human experience. All other gifts may be spared if only hope remains.
Doubtless the years partly subdue the heart and somewhat modify its expectations. Time is a discoverer of many cheats, a ruthless destroyer of baseless dreams. We have all been victims of illusions. The mirages are not all confined to the arid western plains. We have often been disappointed. We have failed to find the thing we sought; or, if we found it, it was less valuable than we expected. But this has not succeeded in preventing us from looking toward the future with beaming eyes. All that the years can do is to change the form of the attraction. When we were children we were won toward the future by toys and holidays and the thought that sometime we should be large boys and girls. We went past those things, but others came in their place. The attractions are many and of all grades to suit the kind of soul that is to be won for-ward. Now it is promise of toys and holidays. Then it is promise and foretaste of young womanhood and manhood and greater freedom of action. Then it is education or travel or wealth or office or power or larger performance. Some go beyond each of these and leave it in the past. They can no more be allured by these expensive trifles. But no matter; there is still something yonder in the future beckoning them onward. The future forever holds some unattained intellectual or spiritual greatness. The decree has gone forth that man shall journey forward unceasingly.
While it is passing much of our life seems uninteresting. Seen from a distance it is not so. While it was present, with its common duties and anxieties and petty annoyances, yesterday was uncomfortable enough and it was thought to-day would be much superior to it. Now, that to-day is here, our condition has not noticeably changed and already we are thinking of To-morrow. It is evident the days with their tasks, with their vexations, with their ups and downs, are very similar. With a few exceptions, in a whole life-time, the days are largely what we make them. Circumstances only play a minor part in making us happy or miserable, As it is health and appetite that give the agreeable taste to food, so life confers its own character to events. The lumberman living on coarse fare, away from civilization for months at a time; the sailor on the sea, his freedom limited by the size of the ship; the ranchero on the plains; the trapper in the forest, without a companion, seems quite as well contented as are many of those who seem to be much more favored of fortune. Nevertheless, while it may be proved that the different days and the different situations in life are much alike in their power to confer contentment, still every day all kinds of persons are expecting something better than anything that has yet befallen them. No one has seen his best days. They are always in the future.
Many of us have made the discovery that we can not have the same happiness twice. Outward conditions may be almost identical, but it is of no use if the heart has changed its mood. In the Bible story those poor hungry wanderers in the wilderness sighed for the flesh pots of Egypt. But had their desire been granted they would have been wofully disappointed. Having turned their faces toward Canaan and having tasted the food of freedom, Egypt and the food of slavery would have been unsatisfying. It is recalled that once we took great delight in the natural scenery of some place and, when the dull and spiritless hours are upon us, we think if we could only look upon these grand and inspiring scenes again our dullness and discontent would vanish. It is useless to think so. We are not the same mortals we were and we should search in vain for what we found before.
Readers have a similar experience. At one time the volumes of a certain author seem all that is necessary to make happiness complete. A Selkirk island, a hermit's cell would be a place of delight if only they might have these splendid and sustaining pages with them. Read now a book that we read twenty years ago and we shall be surprised at the passages we marked. We wonder what has become of that mortal who once placed such emphasis upon these sentences and now find in them so little to awaken and sustain him. One grows weary of the noblest sentiments repeated too often in the same way and asks for a change. We meet one whose thoughts about literature or God or the spiritual life thrill us, but let him be careful how he repeats them to us. Our interest will soon languish and we shall not care to hear him talk unless he can open some new outlook for us and lead us beyond his former boundaries. A Greek voted against Aristides for no other reason than that he had become tired of hearing him called Aristides "The Just;" and we once heard of some children who complained: "Mother, why don't we like that story as well as we used to?" The reason is obvious. We all grow weary of the old limitations.
"Man was made to grow, not stop;
As years are added to years the tendency is some-times to look back with a half melancholy pleasure upon the scenes of youth. But the picture recalled is not the original one in all its details. It is pervaded and colored by our new interpretation and new estimate of life. Two English writers, one of poetry the other of prose, have given their impressions of the past and its effect upon the present. The one contains an almost unbearable load of pathos; the other contains wit and sarcasm that serve to relieve the strain of the other. The poet writes thus:
"Tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean,
Fresh as the first beam glittering on a sail
Ah, sad and strange as in dark summer dawns
Dear as remember'd kisses after death,
Imperfectly quoted from memory, the other passage runs somewhat in this fashion:
"The other day I heard an elderly gentleman who was perfectly sober, who was not particularly handsome or healthy or wealthy say that he would gladly live every minute of his life over again. I did not know whether to vote him a hardened old sinner or whether his statue ought to be erected in the most crowded thoroughfare as the most remarkable representative of bravery the century has produced. Candidly, reader, would you like to live your life over in all its details? What has been its chief joy? What are to-day's principal pleasures? Would you like to prolong them forever? Think of having to eat all the roast beef you have eaten in the past. Think of the whip-pings you had at school, of the hard lessons, of the homesickness, of the debts. Think of again listening to all the sermons you have ever heard. If, in the face of everything, you would be willing to live all your life again I confess you are braver than I. If I had my choice I should ask the attendant to bring in the hemlock."
Permitting one of these to balance the other, we may reach the conclusion that each age is equal to itself and brings its own form of excellence. Childhood has a happiness peculiarly its own, but so have youth and middle life and age much satisfaction that childhood cannot have. There are no barren and use-less years. Man is so constructed that, look where he will, he perceives some merit and some beauty. It would be a great defect if all change of desire and activity should entail more loss than gain. In order to broaden the mind one does not need to narrow the heart. It is not a misfortune to leave childhood and youth behind if, thereby, reason, friendship, skill, taste and affection are increased. Thus there is a real advance possible to mati along many great paths. In art Hope is pictured as a beautiful form inclining gently forward with slightly parted lips and beaming eyes.
This represents the attitude of man through all his existence. He is always leaning toward the future.
Tomorrow has been a mighty incentive to action. Expectation has lifted the world from barbarism to its present condition. The dream of Jacob, who ' saw angels freely passing from heaven to earth and from earth to heaven; of Paul, who saw the whole creation steadily moving by the way of pain and toil toward its redemption; of John who, in vision, saw a new heaven and a new earth from which all death and tears were absent; those dreams of more modern prophets and poets, who behold the perfect realized, all show how the world has been allured forward by prospect of something better.
When the apostle said: "We are saved by hope," he spoke without exaggeration. While hope lasts, nothing seems impossible. When hope is lost all is lost. If we knew that the sorrows coming to us at intervals were perpetual; that every burden were lasting; that all our doubts and suspicious would harden into a permanent habit of unbelief in goodness; that our separations are final; and the hereafter will be an eternal loneliness,—who could endure existence? But we have not found it so. There has always been beneficient doubt that the worst could not happen. If light could not break through the cloud, it has at least flung some rays over the edges apprising us that the sun had not fallen from the sky. Dante pictured hell as a place which hope could not enter. He was faithful to his theology; for once admit hope and hell would cease to exist.
It is worth noting that many of the world's greatest deeds have been done by those who acted upon probabilities rather than upon definite knowledge. Sometimes they could give no better reason for doing a thing than the consciousness of some dimly defined impulse drawing them toward it. Hence the improbable often occurs. Schiller and after him Castelar finely said that had there been no western hemisphere when, filled with expectation, the hardy navigators set sail from Spain, God would have created it to reward such hope and courage. This is the veiled truth, that Providence has placed no thought in the mind nor desire in the heart whose corresponding object does not somewhere exist in the boundless universe. In the spiritual as in the material world the laws of gravitation are unvarying. If the heart feels an attraction in a given direction, it must be because there is some-thing drawing it that way.
Knowledge is often compared to a torch. It is fed by all the past, but it casts its rays toward the future. Experience made it, but hope carries it. We are all fortunate in having such a torch, thus kindled and thus carried. We are glad that the far off years made their contributions to it. We may rejoice in that which was given by the classic periods. We cannot for-get our debt to the sixteenth century with its revolt against tyranny; nor the seventeenth with its great uprising of science and philosophy; nor the eighteenth, when all the flames of liberty and learning blazed to-ward heaven. Thus in all the visible years there has been an advance. Permitting the torch to cast its rays forward, a similar scene of progress appears in outline. Science, religion, liberty, goodness look upon a widening prospect. In one of the world's great uprisings in the name of human rights one song was frequently upon the lips of the multitudes who were making a bold stroke for liberty. Its refrain was: "Ca ira, Ca ira:"—"It will go on; It will go on." Everywhere this song is being sung. It is the chant of nature; the anthem of history; the hymn of each ardent heart. Its refrain is: "It must go on. It must go on. The welfare of man must go on forever."
There was one bird song Thoreau had heard many times, but he could not find the bird itself. He intended this for a fable of life. We have all had a similar experience. We have heard a sweet song, but have not yet caught a glimpse of the singer. Perhaps the meaning of this is that we are to be thus enticed away from the groves and meadows of earth to-ward those of a greater world.
However this may be, there can be no doubt of the method of nature. Higher and still higher is the aim of creative energy. Over all things, from the first stirrings of life on our planet to the human heart, God seems to have written, not only his permission, but his wish that the morrow shall always be better than to-day. To us all he has given a world greater than we can hold in our minds and hearts. It furnishes an arena for endless advance. :Drawing nearer and nearer in study and loving appreciation, it will become greater, more wonderful, more beautiful all through the earthly years and then, doubtless, new doors will be opened upon new scenes and we shall be introduced to wonders surpassing any of our fondest dreams. O marvelous soul of man, with thy infinite hunger for the Perfect, behold a no less marvelous universe that furnishes thee invitation and opportunity to go onward forever!