Page:Saturdayeveningp1935unse.djvu/977

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15
THE SATURDAY EVENING POST

Greek dialogues, the Book of Job, must stand not in our canon but in the great book section of our Apocrypha.

And next we have to consider all the great epics in the world. There, again, I am for exclusion. This Bible we are considering must be universally available. If it is too bulky for universal use it loses its primary function of a moral cement. We cannot include Iliad, Norse saga, Æneid or Paradise Lost in our canon. Let them swell the great sack of our Apocrypha, and let the children read them if they will.

When one glances in this fashion over the accumulated literary resources of mankind it becomes plain that our canonical books of literature in this modern Bible of ours can be little more than an anthology or a group of anthologies. Perhaps they might be gathered under separate heads, as the Book of Freedom, the Book of Justice, the Book of Charity. And now, having done nothing as yet but reject, let me begin to accept. Let me quote a few samples of the kind of thing that would best serve the purpose of our Bible and that should certainly be included.


Place for Lincoln, Henley and Milton

HERE are words that every American knows by heart already—I would like every man in the world to know them by heart and to repeat them. It is Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, and I will not spare you a word of it:

Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives, that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow, this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.


And here is something that might perhaps make another short chapter in the same Book of Freedom, but it deals with Freedom of a different sort:

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.

That, as you know, was Henley's, and as I turned up his volume of poems to copy out that poem I came again on these familiar lines:

The ways of Death are soothing and serene,
And all the words of Death are grave and sweet,
From camp and church, the fireside and the street,
She beckons forth—and strife and song have been.

A simmer's night descending cool and green
And dark on daytime's dust and stress and heat,
The ways of Death are soothing and serene,
And all the words of Death are grave and sweet.

There seems something in that also which I could spare only very reluctantly from a new Bible in the world. Yet I tender those lines very doubtfully. For I am not a very cultivated and well-read person, and note the things that have struck upon my mind, but I quite understand that there must be many things of the same sort, but better, that I have never encountered, or that I have not heard or read under circumstances that were favorable to their proper appreciation. I would rather say about what I am quoting in this section, not positively "this thing," but merely "this sort of thing."
Books Often Good to be Read for "Example of Life and Instruction of Manners"

And in the vein of "this sort of thing" let me quote you—again for the Book of Freedom—a passage from Milton, defending the ancient English tradition of free speech and free decision, and praising London and England. This London and England of which he boasts have broadened out, as the idea of Jerusalem has broadened out, to world-wide comprehensions. Let no false modesty blind us to our great tradition; you and I are still thinking in Milton's city; we continue, however unworthily, the great inheritance of the world-wide responsibility and service of his Englishmen. Here is my passage:

Now once again by all concurrence of signs, and by the general instinct of holy and devout men, as they daily and solemnly express their thoughts, God is decreeing to begin some new and great period in His Church, even to the reforming of reformation itself; what does He then but reveal Himself to His Servants, and, as His manner is, first to His Englishmen? I say, as His manner is, first to us, though we mark not the method of His counsels, and are unworthy. Behold now this vast city, a city of refuge, the mansion-house of liberty, encompassed and surrounded with His protection; the shop of war hath not there more anvils and hammers working, to fashion out the plates and instruments of armed justice in defence of beleaguered truth, than there be pens and heads there, sitting by their studious lamps, musing, searching, revolving new notions and ideas wherewith to present, as with their homage and their fealty, the approaching reformation; others as fast reading, trying all things, assenting to the force of reason and convincement.

What could a man require more from a nation so pliant and so prone to seek after knowledge? What wants there to such a towardly and pregnant soil, but wise and faithful laborers, to make a knowing people, a nation of prophets, of sages, and of worthies? We reckon more than five months yet to harvest; there need not be five weeks, had we but eyes to lift up—the fields are white already. Where there is much desire to learn, there of necessity will be much arguing, much writing, many opinions; for opinion in good men is but knowledge in the making. Under these fantastic terrors of sect and schism, we wrong the earnest and zealous thirst after knowledge and understanding, which God hath stirred up in this city. What some lament of, we rather should rejoice at, should rather praise this pious forwardness among men, to reassume the ill-deputed care of their religion into their own hands again. A little generous prudence, a little forbearance of one another, and some grain of charity might win all these diligencies to join and unite into one general and brotherly search after truth; could we but forego this prelatical tradition of crowding free consciences and Christian liberties into canons and precepts of men. I doubt not, if some great and worthy stranger should come among us, wise to discern the mold and temper of a people, and how to govern it, observing the high hopes and aims, the diligent alacrity of our extended thoughts and reasonings in the pursuance of truth and freedom, but that he would cry out as Pyrrhus did, admiring the Roman docility and courage: "If such were my Epirots, I would not despair the greatest design that could be attempted to make a church or kingdom happy."

Yet these are the men cried out against for schismatics and sectaries, as if, while the temple of the Lord was building, some cutting, some squaring the marble, others hewing the cedars, there should be a sort of irrational men, who could not consider there must be many schisms and many dissections made in the quarry and in the timber ere the house of God can be built. And when every stone is laid artfully together, it cannot be united into a continuity, it can but be contiguous in this world; neither can every piece of the building be of one form; nay, rather the perfection consists in this, that out of many moderate varieties and brotherly dissimilitudes that are not vastly disproportional arises the goodly and the graceful symmetry that commends the whole pile and structure.

But I will not go on turning over the pages of books and reciting prose and poetry to you. I cannot even begin to remind you of the immense treasure of noble and ennobling prose and verse that this world has accumulated in the past three thousand years. Not one soul in ten thousand that is born into this world even tastes from that store. For most of mankind now that treasure is as if it had never been. Is it too much to suggest that we should make some organized attempt to gather up the quintessence of literature now and make it accessible to the masses of our race? Why should we not with a certain breadth and dignity set about compiling the Poetic Books, the Books of Inspiration for a renewed Bible, for a Bible of Civilization? It seems to me that such a book made universally accessible, made a basis of teaching everywhere, could set the key of the whole world's thought.
the Quintessence of Literature Now and Make it Accessible to the Masses of Our Race?


Why Not a Book of Forecasts?

THERE remains one other element if we are to complete that parallelism of the old Bible and the new. The Christian Bible ends with a forecast, the book of Revelation; the Hebrew Bible ended also with forecasts, the Prophets. To that the old Bible owed much of its magic power over men's imaginations and the inspiration it gave them. It was not a dead record, not an accumulation of things finished and of songs sung. It pointed steadily and plainly to the days to come as the end and explanation of all that went before. So, too, our modern Bible, if it is to hold and rule the imaginations of men, must close, I think, with a Book of Forecasts.

(Continued on Page 65)