Page:Satires and profanities -microform- (1884).djvu/98

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the reports are not put into writing until many years after the words were first uttered, the changes will be important even as to the letter; for a narrative from a man's mouth always alters year after year as much as the man himself alters, for he continues grafting his own sense (which may be deplorable nonsense) upon words which have been spoken. When we find sentences of the purest beauty and wisdom in the records of a man's conversation, we may safely proportion the whole philosophical character of the speaker to such sentences. They mark the altitude at which his spirit loved to dwell. We are but completing the circle from the clearest fragment-arc left. Sentences of wisdom less exalted, or of apparent unwisdom, have perhaps been degraded by the reporter, or have been relative to circumstances which we cannot now learn thoroughly.

Jesus as a man, whose words have been recorded by fallible men, is not lowered in my esteem by such contradictions as I find between his various speeches. Every proverb has its antagonist proverb, each being true to a certain extent, or in certain relations. Could we conceive an abstract intellect, we might conceive it dwelling continually in the sphere of abstract and absolute truth; but no man, however wise, dwells continually in this sphere. As a man living in the world, his intellect no less than his body lives in the relative and the conditioned, and naturally reflects the character of this sphere. The wise man finds himself surrounded and obstructed by certain concrete errors, and he attacks these errors with relative truths. Were the errors of another sort, the truths commonly in his mouth would be of another sort too. Many wise men of different ages and countries are pitted against each other as if their doctrines were fundamentally antagonistic, while, in truth, their doctrines are essentially in unison, and either would have spoken or written much the same as the other had he lived in the same circumstances. For a wise man only attacks the errors that are in his way; things which he never meets he can scarcely think of