( Originally Published 1884 )
Moral Courage.—Martyrs of Science.—Persecution of Great Discoverers.
Hostility to New Views.—Socrates, Bruno, Galileo. R. Bacon, Vesalius, and others.—Martyrs of Faith.—Annie Askew, Mary Dyer.—Fortitude of Luther.—Strafford and Elliot.
"It is not but the tempest that doth show
THE world owes much to its men and women of courage. We do not mean physical courage, in which man is at least equaled by the bull-dog; nor is the bull-dog considered the wisest of his species.
The courage that displays itself in silent effort and endeavor that dares to endure all and suffer all for truth and duty is more truly heroic than the achievements of physical valor, which are rewarded by honors and titles, or by laurels sometimes steeped in blood.
It is moral courage that characterizes the highest order of manhood and womanhood the courage to seek and to speak the truth; the courage to be just; the courage to be honest; the courage to resist temptation; the courage to do one's duty. If men and women do not possess this virtue, they have no security whatever for the preservation of any other.
Every step of progress in the history of our race has. been made in the face of opposition and difficulty, and been achieved and secured by men of intrepidity and valor by leaders in the van of thought by great discoverers, great patriots, and great workers in all walks of life. There is scarcely a great truth or doctrine but has had to fight its way to public recognition in the face of detraction, calumny, and persecution. "Everywhere," says Heine, "that a great soul gives utterance to its thoughts, there also is a Golgotha."
Many loved Truth and lavished life's best oil,
Socrates was condemned to drink the hemlock at Athens in his seventy-second year, because his lofty teaching ran counter to the prejudices and party spirit of his age. He was charged by his accusers. with corrupting the youth of Athens by inciting them to despise the tutelary deities of the state. He had the moral courage to brave not only the tyranny of the judges who condemned him, but of the mob who could not under-stand him. He died discoursing of the doctrine of the immortality of the soul; his last words to his judges being, " It is now time that we depart I to die, you to live; but which has the better destiny is unknown to all except to the God."
How many great men and thinkers have been persecuted in the name of religion! Bruno was burnt alive at Rome, because of his exposure of the fashionable but false philosophy of his time. When the judges of the Inquisition condemned him to die, Bruno said, proudly, " You are more afraid to pronounce my sentence than I am to receive it."
To him succeeded Galileo, whose character as a man of science is almost eclipsed by that of the martyr. Denounced by the priests from the pulpit, because of the views he taught as to the motion of the earth, he was. summoned to Rome, in his seventieth year, to answer for his heterodoxy. And he was imprisoned in the Inquisition, if he was not actually put to the torture there. He was pursued by persecution even when dead, the pope refusing a tomb for his body.
Roger Bacon, the Franciscan monk, was persecuted on account of his studies in natural philosophy, and he was charged with dealing in magic, because of his. investigations in chemistry. His writings were condemned, and he was thrown into prison, where he lay for ten years, during the lives of four successive popes. It is even averred that he died in prison.
The Inquisition branded Vesalius as a heretic for revealing man to man, as it had before branded Bruno and Galileo for revealing the heavens to man. Vesalius had the boldness to study the structure of the human body by actual dissection, a practice until then almost entirely forbidden. He laid the foundations of a science, but he paid for it with his life. Condemned by the Inquisition, his penalty was commuted, by the intercession of the Spanish king, into a pilgrimage to the Holy Land: and when on his way back, while still in the prime of life, he died miserably at Zante, of fever and want a martyr to his love of science.
While the followers of Copernicus were persecuted as infidels, Kepler was branded with the stigma of heresy, " because," said he, " I take that side which seems to me to be consonant with the Word of God." Even the pure and simple-minded Newton, of whom Bishop Burnet said that he had the whitest soul he ever knew-who was a very infant in the purity of his mind even Newton was accused of " dethroning the Deity" by his sublime discovery of the law of gravitation; and a similar charge was made against Franklin for explaining the nature of the thunderbolt.
The philosophy of Descartes was denounced as leading to irreligion; the doctrines of Locke were said to produce materialism; and in our own day, Dr Buckland, Mr. Sedgewick, and other leading geologists, have been accused of overturning revelation with regard to the constitution and history of the earth. Indeed, there has scarcely been a discovery in astronomy, in natural history, or in physical science, that has not been attacked by the bigoted and narrow-minded as leading to infidelity.
Other great discoveries, though they may not have been charged with irreligion, have had not less obloquy of a professional and public nature to encounter. When Dr. Harvey published his theory of the circulation of the blood, his practice fell off, and the medical profession stigmatized him as a fool. " The few good things I have been able to do," said John Hunter, " have been accomplished with the greatest difficulty, and encountered the greatest opposition." Sir Charles Bell, while employed in his important investigations as to the nervous system, which issued in one of the greatest of physiological discoveries, wrote to a friend: " If I were not so poor, and had not so many vexations to encounter, how happy would I be ! " But he himself observed that his practice sensibly fell off after the publication of each successive stage of his discovery.
Thus nearly every enlargement of the domain of knowledge, which has made us better acquainted with the heavens, with the earth, and with ourselves, has been established by the energy, the devotion, the self sacrifice, and the courage of the great spirits of past times, who, however much they have been opposed or reviled by their contemporaries, now rank among those whom the enlightened of the human race most delight to honor.
Nor is the unjust intolerance displayed towards men of science in the past without its lesson for the present.
It teaches us to be forbearant towards those who differ from us, provided they observe patiently, think honestly, and utter their convictions freely and truthfully. It was a remark of Plato, that " the world is God's epistle to mankind; " and to read and study that epistle, so as to elicit its true meaning, can have no other effect on a well-ordered mind than to lead to a deeper impression of His power, a clearer perception of His wisdom, and a more grateful sense of His goodness.
While such has been the courage of the martyrs of science, not less glorious has been the courage of the martyrs of faith. The passive endurance of the man or woman, who, for conscience' sake, is found ready to suffer and to endure in solitude, without so much as the encouragement of even a single sympathizing voice, is an exhibition of courage of a far higher kind than that displayed in the roar of battle, where even the weakest feels encouraged and inspired by the enthusiasm of sympathy and the power of numbers. Time would fail to tell of the deathless names of those who through faith in principles, and in the face of difficulty, danger, and suffering, " have wrought righteousness and waxed valiant " in the moral warfare of the world, and been content to lay down their lives rather than prove false to their conscientious convictions of the truth.
Men of this stamp, inspired by a high sense of duty, have in past times exhibited character in its most heroic aspects, and continue to present to us some of the noblest spectacles to be seen in history. Even women, full of tenderness and gentleness, not less than men, have in this cause been found capable of exhibiting the most unflinching courage. Such, for instance, as that of Anne Askew,. who, when racked until her bones were dislocated, uttered no cry, moved no muscle, but looked her tormentors calmly in the face, and refused either to confess or to recant; or such as that of Latimer and Ridley, who, instead of bewailing their hard fate and beating their breasts, went as cheerfully to their death as a bridegroom to the altar the one bidding the other to " be of good comfort," for that " we shall this day light such a candle in England, by God's grace, as shall never be put out ;" as such, again, as that of Mary Dyer,. the Quakeress, hanged by the Puritans of New England for preaching to the people, who ascended the scaffold with a willing step, and, after calmly addressing those who stood about, resigned herself into the hands of her persecutors, and died in peace and joy.
Martin Luther was not called upon to lay down his life for his faith; but, from the day that he declared himself against the pope he daily ran the risk of losing it. At the beginning of his great struggle he stood almost entirely alone. The odds against him were tremendous. " On one side," said he himself, " are learning, genius, numbers, grandeur, rank, power, sanctity, miracles: on the other Wycliff, Lorenzo Valla, Augustine, and Luther a poor creature, a man of yesterday, standing well-nigh alone with a few friends." Summoned by the emperor to appear at Worms, to answer the charge made against him of heresy, he determined to answer in person. Those about him told him that he would lose his life if he went, and they urged him to fly. " No," said he, " I will repair. thither, though I should find there thrice as many ,devils as there are tiles upon the house-tops!" Warned against the hitter enmity of a certain Duke George, he said, " I will go there, though for nine whole days running it rained Duke Georges!"
Luther was as good as his word, and he set forth upon his perilous journey. When he came in sight of the old-bell towers of Worms, he stood up in his chariot and sang, " Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott " the " Marseillaise " of the Reformation the words and music of which he is said to have improvised only two days before. Shortly before the meeting of the Diet, an old soldier, George Freundesberg, put his hand upon Luther's shoulder, and said to him: " Good monk, good monk, take heed what thou doest; thou art going into a harder fight than any of us have ever yet been in." But Luther's only answer to the veteran was, that he had " determined to stand upon the Bible and his conscience."
Luther's courageous defense before the Diet is on record, and forms one of the most glorious pages in history. When finally urged by the emperor to retract, he said, firmly: " Sire, unless I am convinced of my error by the testimony of Scripture, or by manifest evidence, I can not and will not retract, for we must never act contrary to our conscience. Such is my profession of faith, and you must expect none other from me. Hier stehe ich : Ich kann nicth anders: Gott Helfe mir !" (Here stand I: I can not do otherwise: God help me!) He had to do his duty to obey the orders of a Power higher than that of kings; and he did it at all hazards.
Afterwards, when hard pressed by his enemies at Augsburg, Luther said that, " if he had five hundred heads, he would lose them all rather than recant his article concerning faith." Like all courageous men, his strength only seemed to grow in 'proportion to the difficulties he had to encounter and overcome. " There is no man in Germany," said Hutten, " who more utterly despises death than does Luther." And to his moral courage, perhaps more than to that of any other single man, do we owe the liberation of modern thought, and the vindication of the great rights of the human under-standing.
The honorable and brave man does not fear death compared with ignominy. It is said of the royalist Earl of Strafford that, as he walked to the scaffold on Tower Hill, his step and manner were those of a general marching at the head of an army to secure victory, rather than of a condemned man to undergo sentence of death. So the Commonwealth's man, Sir John Eliot, went alike bravely to his death on the same spot, saying: " Ten thousand deaths rather than defile my con-science, the chastity and purity of which I value beyond all this world." Eliot's greatest tribulation was on account of his wife, whom he had to leave behind. When he saw her looking down upon him from the Tower window, he stood up in the cart, waved his hat, and cried : " To heaven, my love! to heaven! and leave you in the storm!" As he went on his way, one in the crowd called out, " That is the most glorious seat you ever sat on;" to which he replied, " It is so, indeed!" and rejoiced exceedingly.