Miles Et Virtus
( Originally Published Late 1800's )
The Roman soldier was one of the bravest of his kind. He could face the most deadly perils with transcendent coolness. He could face the shock of battle without flinching and win victories where other soldiers would fail. The Roman armies were drilled in tactics that would seem very strange to modern warfare. The soldiers were marshaled in a phalanx of any convenient number of ranks. The men stood in the lines about a yard apart, so as to give room to throw their weapons and perform the other movements that were necessary. The second line was so placed that the men comprising it stood four feet to the rear in the space between the men of the first rank, so that if the second rank advanced and the first stood still, they would march out between them to the front. The lines behind were placed in the same relative position to the second line and to each other. In marching against the enemy, the soldiers of the first line discharged their weapons and fell back, throwing the second line to the front. It in turn gave place to the third, the first and second lines falling back to the rear, as the third and fourth came to the front. When the spears were all spent and the veteran line had come to take its place at the post of danger, the soldiers doubled ranks and with drawn swords closed in to finish the combat hand to hand. If one man fell, another behind him took his place, so that the line of battle always presented an unbroken front. These movements required great coolness and intrepidity. It would be a difficult manoeuvre upon the parade ground ; but in battle, where everything depends upon regularity and rapidity of movement, with the noise of battle and the cries of falling comrades to distract attention and complicate the movement, the greatest courage and coolness must have been called into play. Every soldier had to be a courageous, self-reliant man, or the whole battle might fail. He must be quick to observe, careful to execute, always alert. When he held his position and did all that was required of him to win the fight, he was said to exercise virtus or bravery, and the term was applied to that calm, cool courage that was necessary to make a good soldier. This was the Roman idea of virtue, to attain it was the ambition of every man in the legion. To be brave and fearless in fight was the only way to advancement in those armies of stern-hearted warriors. In after-times, when men exhibited firmness and decision in social and civic relations, the same ten,- was applied, and virtus came at last to mean the exercise of those high intellectual and moral qualities which in later generations received the name of virtue Courage.
Courage is one of the strong forces of character. It nerves the arm to strike ; it inspires the heart to dare; It enables the soul to endure, where there is not a glimmer of hope in the leaden sky of seeming defeat and failure. It is the courageous men that have been the virtual rulers of the world. Men who have stood alone and fought the battles of their independence. Men inspired by some absorbing purpose, which the world around them did not and could not comprehend. Such men were the great puritan leaders of England; such were the master spirits of the Reformation ; such were the statesmen of Italy. Such have been the Washingtons, the Websters, the Calhouns, the Lincolns and the Lees of our own land. Such a man was the brave spirit whose life went out by the sea, and such, the old commander, who struggled those many months with the only enemy that ever conquered him.
Courage is the foundation of true manliness, and the man of highest success is at once a good man and a brave one. Not the bravery of the savage or the brute, that does not shrink, because it does not appreciate danger; but that courage which is found in truth and perfect sincerity; that utter indifference to. self so long as duty is done and right prevails. The truly courageous man is brave in small things as well as in great. He has the courage to speak the truth as well as to give the thrilling command for battle. He has the courage to adorn his house with manly virtue, as well as the serried ranks of war with his manly presence. He has the courage to be honest, to resist temptation, to be courteous even to the meanest of God's creatures. He has the courage to live a goo and simple life, though he walk with princes and stand 'before kings. He has the courage to exemplify the great qualities of mind and heart which make a :true man in -.whatever condition of life he may be found. The truly courageous man has the fortitude to-subdue himself, the greatest of all conquests; for "he that ruleth his own 'spirit is better than he that taketh a city."
Manly courage has played a most important part in the lives of the world's great men. There is hardly a man who' has made a visible impression upon the age in which he' 'lived, that did not exhibit great heroism. The glory of martyrdom has gone -hand in hand with -the glory of attainment in the past history of the world. There is hardly a truth in science or a great doctrine of human freedom, that has not had to fight its way to public recognition in the very teeth of prejudice, calumny and persecution. The mass of mankind seem to have set themselves resolutely to block the wheels of progress while the apostles of advancement and the defenders of liberty have struggled to make them go. The heroic devotion of such men as Galileo, Roger Bacon, Copernicus, Descartes and Michael Faraday, on one hand, and Socrates, Paul, Luther, Knox, Savonarola, Francis Xavier and George Whitefield on-the other, has been surpassed only by the world's stupidity, ignorance and blindness. The "leaders in the van of thought" have all been men of the greatest intrepidity and valor. 'Like pioneers, they have stood upon the frontier of advancing truth, to defend it and themselves from savage hate and cruelty. Every step they have taken and every inch of progress they have won, has been conquered from the wilderness of opposition and difficulty. But with unconquerable courage they have struggled on for right and truth, until the darkness of ignorance gave way and the stubborn front of opposition was withdrawn. And scarcely any of these heroic men have ever lived to enter fully into the enjoyment of the great privileges they have secured for mankind. In the majority of cases, they have sealed devotion to truth with their lives, and left to other men and to other ages the peaceable fruit of their planting.
The great Socrates devoted his life to the pursuit of truth. His lofty teachings have been an inspiration to the world since the day he led his followers along delightful paths in the city that is famous because of him. But his lofty teachings ran counter to the prejudices of his day. Party spirit could not then, as now, brook opposition. He was charged with corrupting the youth of Athens, because he taught a sensible theory of divinity in place of the wretched idolatry of his people. At the age of seventy-two he was condemned on this foolish charge and drank the poison-hemlock, dying cheerfully and bravely as he had lived, in the defense of eternal truth. "He had the courage," says Samuel Smiles, "to brave not only the tyranny of the judges who condemned him, but of the mob who could not understand him." The great Athenian died discoursing upon the doctrine of immortality, and his soul seemed to be enlightened, even in that heathen world, with the true light that was so soon to burst in splendor upon the earth.
No less cruel and senseless was the imprisonment of Roger Bacon, the pioneer of free thought in England. Filled with an intense ambition to investigate the truths of science and mathematics, he met with the fiercest opposition and the most insurmountable difficulties. The whole temper of the age was against scientific or philanthropic studies. The older enthusiasm for knowledge was already a thing of the past at the seats of learning. Theology was despised and philosophy discredited. Literature had become well-nigh extinct and the age was lapsing into intellectual barbarism. After forty years of the most incessant struggle with difficulty the brave scholar found himself, in his own phrase, "unheard, forgotten, buried." He thus describes the insurmountable difficulties in the way of his advancement:
" Without mathematical instruments no science can be mastered, and these instruments are not to be found among the Latins, and could not be made for two or three hundred pounds. Besides, better tables are indispensably necessary, tables on which the motions of the heavens are certified from the beginning to the end of the world; but these tables are worth a king's ransom, and could not be made without a vast expense. I have often attempted the composition of such tables, but could not finish them through failure of means and the folly of those whom I had to employ. The scientific works of Aristotle, of Avicenna, of Seneca, of Cicero and other ancients, cannot be had without great cost ; their principal works have not been translated into Latin, and copies of others are not to be found in ordinary libraries, or elsewhere. The admirable books of Cicero de Republica are not to be found anywhere, so far as I can hear, though I have made anxious inquiry for them in different parts of the world, and by various messengers. I could never find the works of Seneca, though I made diligent search for them during twenty years and more. And so it is with many more most useful books, connected with the sciences of morals."
Iris from words like these that we get an insight into the keen thirst for knowledge, the patient energy and sublime courage of Roger Bacon.
Ruined and baffled in his hopes, the heroic scholar-listened to the advices of a friend and joined the Franciscan Friars, an order opposed to intellectual progress, and sternly hating books and studies. And if tradition can be trusted, they imprisoned for ten years the greatest- man that ever graced their councils - with his benign presence. But in the solitude of, Friar-life he composed those "works" that mark the-"creation " of English science. At last in - the ripeness- of age, after a most courageous life, the- old man died as- he had lived, "unheard, forgotten, buried."' And it has been left for later times to do justice to the poor Franciscan scholar. Men of later days-have, with:: reverent hand, cleared away - the obscurity that had gathered round his memory and have placed his name' first in the honor-roll of modern science.
Galileo was a man of great courage as well as. intellectual activity. While once in attendance upon) service - at the cathedral of Pisa, he observed a lamp swinging to and fro after the verger had replenished the oil. He was then a youth of eighteen, but in this simple phenomenon of a swinging lamp, the great mind, saw an instrument for measuring time. He had the courage to attack the problem and pursue it for fifty-years through the most exhausting labor and difficulty. When he had finished his work and the law of the pendulum had been demonstrated to the world one of the most useful discoveries of all time had been completed. In like manner he put himself to the task of perfecting and enlarging the telescope, which had been invented by a Dutch spectacle-maker. Thus Galileo laid the foundation for modern researches in astronomy. But he was. denounced by the men of his time as a heretic. Summoned to Rome because he had announced a true theory of the revolution of the earth, he was forced to recant his statements and was imprisoned in the Inquisition for his heterodoxy. Tradition says, that the brave man arose from his enforced recantation and said, " But it does move though." Whether he was tortured for dissenting from the dictum of Aristotle or not will never be known; but certain it is that he went through a baptism of persecution for- being brave enough to tell the truth to his stupid countrymen.
So we might go on enumerating men who lived self-denying lives and died in virtual martyrdom for the cause of human progress. Bruno was burnt alive for expressing the errors of a false philosophy. Ackham was excommunicated by the Pope and died in exile at Munich. Vesalius was branded as a heretic by the "Inquisition" for revealing man to man. He studied the structure and functions of the human body by actual dissection and paid for his discoveries with his life, dying miserably of fever at Zante while returning from doing penance in the Holy Land. The Novum-Organum was vilified as a source of "dangerous- revolutions," and Dr. Henry Stubbe saved his name to succeeding generations by denouncing the adherents of the new philosophy as a "Bacon-faced generation." And Green tells us that even the establishment of the Royal Society was opposed on the ground, that experimental philosophy is subversive of Christian faith." Copernicus was reviled for demonstrating the true theory of the earth's rotation and his followers persecuted as infidels. Kepler was branded with the stigma of heresy for giving to the world those mighty "calculations" that have simplified scientific investigation and been of immense benefit to the world. So, too, ,the great-hearted, simple-minded Isaac Newton was accused of "dethroning the Deity" by promulgating the law of gravitation. Thus the "whitest soul that ever grew" was called to suffer for the sake of truth. Our own Franklin, too, "dethroned the Deity" by "catching the forked lightning" and explaining the nature of a thunder-bolt. Spinoza was excommunicated by the Jews and died in poverty, "deserted and forgotten." Descartes was denounced as a skeptic ; the doctrines of Locke were said to lead to materialism, and the great geologists, from Hugh Miller down, have been charged with destroying the book of Genesis. Dr. Harvey was reviled as a fool, and every advance in medical knowledge has been received as a hair-brained theory of quackism. Indeed, the whole process of civilization has been a stern warfare with insuperable ignorance, insufferable prejudice and infinite stupidity. Every man who would rise to the dignity of courageous effort must do so amid the doubtings of friends and the opposition of foes. Stupid prejudice still bars every man's way to advancement, and there is as much need of courage now as in the times of Bacon and Galileo. The way of life is the way of difficulty, and every man of success must "bear unflinching witness" to the toils and hardships of his vocation. Even in the light and happiness and privilege of the days in which we live, there is no "royal road" to the attainment of noble ends. Thought is free, body and limbs are free ; labor is free, the aspiring soul unfettered by the difficulties of former times; but effort, patience, skill and courage are still the essential factors of a successful career.