MONDAY, JANUARY 21
REASON AND JUST ARGUMENT
Undoubtedly it is our duty, and for our best good, that we occupy and improve the faculties, with which our creator has endowed us, but so far as prejudice, or prepossession of opinion prevails over our minds, in the same proportion, reason is excluded from our theory or practice. Therefore if we would acquire useful knowledge, we must first divest ourselves of those impediments and sincerely endeavor to search out the truth: and draw our conclusions from reason and just argument, which will never conform to our inclination, interest or fancy but we must conform to that if we would judge rightly.
— Ethan Allen (born January 21, 1737)
PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE
We hold the past by the reproduction of memory. We summon the future by the forecast of imagination: without which powers and their present exercise, what joy? For the present is but a breath, a feeling, an instant, an atom, a mote, here and gone. If it were all we could enjoy, we should be simply like passing bursts of strength or like bubbling sensations each dying in the next, as perhaps we may conceive some creatures to be who have no memory. But the forecasting of the future depends on memory, since all that is to be grows out of what has been. Therefore, memory is the storehouse of zest; and happiness, though it draws from the future because hope and imagination are blissful, yet more exercises itself in filling up the present from the past; for this is to live our lives all at once and to combine past pleasures into one whole of delight, which is the very nobility and humanity of enjoyment. Hence, the value of a rich past, to be lived over again by communion with happy memories, crowded with thoughts great as heaven, and especially with growth; for this is most absorbing and interesting always. All of these may be compacted into a very brief space, so that some great year, or two or three perhaps, may hold riches for a lifetime, and pour their wealth into the lap of the present perpetually. But, if the enjoyment of the present springs so much from the past, so do the riches of the future depend on the wealth of the present; for, if the present be not rich going by, how can the future be rich when it arrives? The future is the riches of the present gathered in a mass of power. To glean all possible worth, therefore, from the things that pass along, whatever they be, to see the divinity in them, to seize on the great side of them, if they be little, — that is, on their relationship to the great, — and to drain the pleasure of little things, — if only, perhaps, a draught of cold water on a dusty day, with a sense of gratitude therewith, — this is wisdom, if one wish to be blest.
— James Vila Blake (born January 21, 1842)
Meditation is a strong and quiet attention of the mind to high and noble ideas. This definition states two qualities. Meditation is first quietness. We live in a great din. It is well to see (for who sees it not will have but narrow sympathies and understand little that occurs around him) that the noise is often a noble uproar, "deep calling unto deep, "the clamor of wonderful machinery, of great labors, of human struggles, of heroes' voices. But storms, though grand, must sink if the sea is to show the stars. Meditation, secondly, must be power of will and strength of attention, being like a flight to great heights wherein wings must be plied hard though joyfully.
— James Vila Blake (born January 21, 1842)
A CHURCH FOUNDED ON THE PRAGMATIC PRINCIPLE
We do not know what the years may yet bring forth in the mysterious workings of the human spirit. Religion has not always come to men in the stress and strain of life. It does not always come as a great wave of enthusiasm following widespread disaster and suffering. Where the voice of hope and aspiration fails to be heard in the earthquake and the whirlwind, it has been detected in the softer and quieter tones of the spirit. The mere promise of a better day may yet arouse a people, however complacent they may be in the present. Some element of spiritual discontent may yet seize on souls that to all outward appearance are now wholly self-satisfied. Some sense of eternal values yet to be achieved may still come to lives that today seem wholly absorbed in the passing things of sense and matter.
A religion that presents a whole world of experience to be explored may yet have its day. When the religion of dogma shall have lost its dominion over the minds of men, who shall say that the vistas opened up by a new and living truth shall not come, to light again those holy fires of the heart that without this new gospel are in danger of being extinguished? Not wholly with a vain dream do we entertain ourselves then, when we picture even the ideal of a church that may sometime be founded on this pragmatic principle in religion. In the more general sense, that church would consist of every man and woman in all the churches who is inspired with the spirit of progress, and who lays more stress on the fruits of living than on abstract and useless theories. In the more specific sense, that new church would consist of a band of earnest and thoughtful men and women gathered, possibly, out of the ranks of the apparently skeptical and indifferent, who would organize for united thought and effort in the practical directions here outlined. Unlike all other churches, the conditions of membership in this would be based less on claims of knowledge than on a humble, reverent confession of ignorance. Instead of formulating dogmas that map out and define the Infinite, here would be presented the inspiring idea of a universe and a life larger and richer than any man's thought of it.
If the members of such a religious organization came together bound by any covenant, that form of agreement would rest on the simple faith in the latent and undeveloped capacities of the human soul. This, the first and the only essential faith: if, out of the richer experience and broader spiritual growth which such a church might produce, it should develop some common faith in unseen and eternal realities, or even if, out of its unfolding life, there might grow up something that might seem like a theology, all this would be the blossom and the fruitage rather than the root or the trunk of that tree of life the growth of which is the object of its endeavors.
— Loren B. Macdonald (born January 21, 1858)
TUESDAY, JANUARY 22
FROM NOVUM ORGANUM
Those who have taken upon them to lay down the law of nature as a thing already searched out and understood, whether they have spoken in simple assurance or professional affectation, have therein done philosophy and the sciences great injury. For as they have been successful in inducing belief, so they have been effective in quenching and stopping inquiry; and have done more harm by spoiling and putting an end to other men's efforts than good by their own. Those on the other hand who have taken a contrary course, and asserted that absolutely nothing can be known — whether it were from hatred of the ancient sophists, or from uncertainty and fluctuation of mind, or even from a kind of fullness of learning, that they fell upon this opinion — have certainly advanced reasons for it that are not to be despised; but yet they have neither started from true principles nor rested in the just conclusion, zeal and affectation having carried them much too far. ...
Now my method, though hard to practice, is easy to explain; and it is this. I propose to establish progressive stages of certainty. The evidence of the sense, helped and guarded by a certain process of correction, I retain. But the mental operation which follows the act of sense I for the most part reject; and instead of it I open and lay out a new and certain path for the mind to proceed in, starting directly from the simple sensuous perception.
— Francis Bacon (born January 22, 1561)
WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 23
MYSTERY AND CONTRADICTION
Mystery and contradiction are very different things. The former is something beyond our sight, or seen imperfectly. The latter is plainly seen to be untrue. It may concern subjects of which we know very little, but of every subject we know enough to see that two contradictory statements cannot both be true.
— William Greenleaf Eliot, Jr. (died January 23, 1887)
ON THE GOOD SOCIETY
I no longer find such pleasure in that preeminently good society, of which I was once so fond. It seems to me that beneath a cloak of clever talk it proscribes all energy, all originality. If you are not a copy, people accuse you of being ill-mannered. And besides, good society usurps its privileges. It had in the past the privilege of judging what was proper, but now that it supposes itself to be attacked, it condemns not what is coarse and disagreeable without compensation, but what it thinks harmful to its interest.
— Stendhal, a.k.a. Marie-Henri Beyle (born January 23, 1783)
THURSDAY, JANUARY 24
The merits and services of Christianity have been industriously extolled by its hired advocates. Every Sunday its praises are sounded from myriads of pulpits. It enjoys the prestige of an ancient establishment and the comprehensive support of the State. It has the ear of rulers and the control of education. Every generation is suborned in its favor. Those who dissent from it are losers, those who oppose it are ostracized; while in the past, for century after century, it has replied to criticism with imprisonment, and to skepticism with the dungeon and the stake. By such means it has induced a general tendency to allow its pretensions without inquiry and its beneficence without proof.
— G.W. Foote and J.M. Wheeler
(Joseph Mazzini Wheeler was born January 24, 1850)
It is suitable — it is well — that we sometimes pause on our life-journey, and, in retrospect, survey the landmarks we have passed, recalling to mind some of the many incidents of our sojourn, that our spirits may be refreshed with a recollection of the virtues and graces of our fellow-travellers, and those who have preceded us ; being won to imitate their excellences, and to follow them in so far as they have followed the great Exemplar of Christians. Hence, great events and important epochs in the history of nations, peoples, and individuals, have been commemorated, in all ages, by centennial, semi-centennial, and anniversary celebrations.
— Edward Turner (died January 24, 1853)
FRIDAY, JANUARY 25
THE KIRK’S ALARM
Orthodox! Orthodox! —
Who believe in John Knox —
Let me sound an alarm to your conscience:
A heretic blast
Has been blown in the West,
That what is not sense must be nonsense —
That what is not sense must be nonsense.
Dr. Mac! Dr. Mac!
You should stretch on a rack,
To strike wicked Writers with terror:
To join faith and sense,
Upon any pretence,
Was heretic, damnable error —
It was heretic, damnable error.
Town of Ayr! Town of Ayr!
It was rash, I declare,
To meddle with mischief a-brewing:
Provost John is still deaf
To the church's relief,
And Orator Bob is its ruin —
Town of Ayr!
And Orator Bob is its ruin.
Dalrymple mild! Dalrymple mild!
Though your heart is like a child,
And your life like the new-driven snow,
Yet that will not save you:
Old Satan must have you,
For preaching that three is one and two —
For preaching that three is one and two.
Calvin's sons! Calvin's sons!
Seize your spiritual guns,
Ammunition you never can need:
Your hearts are the stuff
Will be powder enough,
And your skulls are store-houses of lead —
Your skulls are store-houses of lead.
Rumble John! Rumble John!
Mount the steps with a groan,
Cry:— 'The book is with heresy crammed';
Then lug out your ladle,
Deal brimstone like cow-lant,
And roar every note of the damned —
And roar every note of the damned. …
Davie Rant! Davie Rant!
In a face like a saint
And a heart that would poison a hog,
Raise an impudent roar,
Like a breaker lee-shore,
Or the Church will be lost in a bog —
Or the Church will be lost in a bog. …
Muirland Jock! Muirland Jock!
Whom the Lord gave a stock
Would set up a gypsy tinker in brass (money),
If ill manners were wit,
There is no mortal so fit
To prove the poor Doctor an ass —
To prove the poor Doctor an ass.
Holy William! Holy William!
There was wit in your skull,
When you pilfered the alms of the poor:
The material is scant,
When you are taken for a saint
Who should swing in a rope for an hour —
You should swing in a rope for an hour.
Poet Burns! Poet Burns!
With your Priest-slapping turns,
Why desert you your old native shire?
Your Muse is a gypsy,
Yet were she even tipsy,
She could call us no worse than we are —
You could call us no worse than we are.
— Robert Burns (born January 25, 1759)
NATURE AND HER BOUNTY
For ourselves, who are ordinary men and women, let us return thanks to Nature for her bounty by using every one of the senses she has given us; vary our state as much as possible; turn now this side, now that, to the warmth, and relish to the full before the sun goes down the kisses of youth and the echoes of a beautiful voice singing Catullus. Every season is likeable, and wet days and fine, red wine and white, company and solitude. Even sleep, that deplorable curtailment of the joy of life, can be full of dreams; and the most common actions—a walk, a talk, solitude in one’s own orchard—can be enhanced and lit up by the association of the mind. Beauty is everywhere, and beauty is only two finger’s-breadth from goodness.
— Virginia Woolf (born January 25, 1882)
THE GREAT REVELATION
“Like a work of art,” she repeated, looking from her canvas to the drawing-room steps and back again. She must rest for a moment. And, resting, looking from one to the other vaguely, the old question which transversed the sky of the soul perpetually, the vast, the general question which was apt to particularize itself at such moments as these, when she released faculties that had been on the strain, stood over her, paused over her, darkened over her. What is the meaning of life? That was all — a simple question; one that tended to close in on one with years. The great revelation had never come. The great revelation perhaps never did come. Instead there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark; here was one. This, that, and the other …
— Virginia Woolf (born January 25, 1882)
SATURDAY, JANUARY 26
RECREATION AND HAPPINESS
Society owes it to itself and to its members, first to give recreation, then to regulate it; what is given freely can be regulated with ease; sanctity attaches to the munificence of the generous mind; what is wrung from the miser, we squander without remorse. Let society make of recreation a friend, and it will cease to be its enemy; let us overcome its evil with good. Let your children grow up with the idea that they may practise no recreation in which their parents, if not participants, shall at least be present as observers and wardens. The extremes of society ought to suspend hostilities, and compromise their dissensions ; the sinful gaiety on one side should be abandoned, and the equally sinful severity on the other; there is the common ground of health and innocence, friendship and peace, purity and virtue, which, for a few moments at least of life, they might occupy together. We ought to strive for a pious happiness and a happy piety.
Our people thirst for happiness, for recreation, for something festive; and, when a man is not sustained by religion, or fed by literature, when there is no genial, pleasant occasion to call him out on the common in company with his fellow-citizens, he betakes himself to his bottle. I believe happiness, on a large and general scale, is not unfavorable to morality; and for this reason, when all are happy, and all are united in their happiness, there is no opportunity for individual passion and selfish desire to be very active.
— Sylvester Judd (died January 26, 1853)
How beautiful the setting sun!
The clouds how bright and gay!
The stars, appearing one by one,
How beautiful are they!
And when the moon climbs up the sky,
And sheds her gentle light,
And hangs her crystal lamp on high,
How beautiful is night!
And can it be I am possessed
Of something brighter far?
Glows there a light within this breast
Outshining every star?
Yes; should the sun and stars turn pale,
The mountains melt away,
This flame within shall never fail,
But live in endless day.
This is the soul that God has given,—
Sin may its lustre dim;
While goodness bears it up to heaven,
And leads it back to him.
— Eliza Lee Cabot Follen (died January 26, 1860)
SUNDAY, JANUARY 27
THE MYTHICAL ELEMENT
If religion be defined as the perception of truth, not in the form of an idea, which is the philosophic perception, but invested with imagery, it is easy to see that the mythical element can be wanting only when religion either falls short of it, or goes beyond its peculiar province, and that in the proper religious sphere it must necessarily exist.
— David Friedrich Strauss (born January 27, 1808)
THE TRUE OBJECT IS IN LIFE
I believe this thought, of the possibility of death — if calmly realized, and steadily faced would be one of the best possible tests as to our going to any scene of amusement being right or wrong. If the thought of sudden death acquires, for you, a special horror when imagined as happening in a theatre, then be very sure the theatre is harmful for you, however harmless it may be for others; and that you are incurring a deadly peril in going. Be sure the safest rule is that we should not dare to live in any scene in which we dare not die.
But, once realize what the true object is in life — that it is not pleasure, not knowledge, not even fame itself, ‘that last infirmity of noble minds’ — but that it is the development of character, the rising to a higher, nobler, purer standard, the building-up of the perfect Man — and then, so long as we feel that this is going on, and will (we trust) go on for evermore, death has for us no terror; it is not a shadow, but a light; not an end, but a beginning!
— Lewis Carroll (born January 27, 1832)
Disturb us, Lord, when
We are too well pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true
Because we have dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely
Because we sailed too close to the shore.
Disturb us, Lord, when
With the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst
For the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life,
We have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our efforts to build a new earth,
We have allowed our vision
Of the new Heaven to dim.
Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wider seas
Where storms will show your mastery;
Where losing sight of land,
We shall find the stars.
We ask You to push back
The horizons of our hopes;
And to push into the future
In strength, courage, hope, and love.
— Attributed to Sir Francis Drake (died January 27, 1596)
|Robert Burns (1759-1796)|