Lord Asburton And Thomas Carlyle
( Originally Published 1902 )
DR. JAMES McCOSH, before he came to this country to become the President of Princeton College, was visited at his home in Ireland by Lord Ashburton, the man who settled the line between the United States and Canada. He said to the doctor : " I am in great trouble, my heart is broken. My dear wife has recently died. She was my idol, the apple of my eye. She was a great friend of Thomas Carlyle, and I asked Mr. Carlyle what I should do to have peace and make me the kind of a man I ought to be. He simply told me to go and read Goethe's Wilhelm Meister. I read it carefully, and found nothing to comfort or improve me. I went back to him, and asked him what particular lesson he wanted me to learn from that book. His answer was, ` Read Wilhelm Meister!' I have done so again, but find nothing to meet my necessity. Do you know what Mr. Carlyle meant, or what there is in the book he recommended to give me relief ? " Dr. McCosh said he did not know what the great essayist meant nor what there was in the book to comfort him; that it was not in the power of Carlyle nor Goethe to supply the balm his soul needed. Then he recommended to the heartbroken nobleman Jesus Christ as the only cure for man's sorrows and sins. It took Goethe twenty years to write Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship. It is the story of a young man who grows tired of being a traveling salesman for his father's business house in a little town in Germany, and goes off with a theatre troupe and learns the art and becomes an actor. Not succeeding in the profession, he seeks the company of those who are richer and more cultivated, and after a series of unhappy experiences he marries a rich lady and becomes a landed proprietor. The promotion of this young man from a clerk-ship in a country store to the proprietorship of an estate, or from association with a second-class traveling troupe to a position in society amongst the nobility of the realm, traced by even so great a genius as Goethe, has no possible comfort in it for a man who has lost his wife and is afraid he will lose his soul. And yet literature, philosophy, society, and false religion are constantly recommending their unavailing substitutes for Christ, the only balm, the only cure of the soul. When our loved ones die, Christ alone can comfort us.