The Kingdom of Light
GEORGE RECORD PECK IN PUTNAM'S MONTHLY
Mr. Peck is General Counsel of Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railway Company, who has re ently retired from the presidency of the American Bar Association. The following address, appealing for the consideration of the things of ihe mind and the spirit, was delivered before a small organization called the Phantom Club, which meets every summer at Phant Lake in Wisconsin.
IT IS not for me to enter the domain of religion, nor to trench upon ground occupied by men who have been specially called to the work. I speak only of the life that now is; how its highest compensations can be won, its rewards, if you please, attained; its sorrows mitigated, and its joys increased and multiplied.
And this is the lesson that I would give : Dwell in the Kingdom of
Light. And where is that Kingdom? What are its boundaries? What cities are builded within it ? What hills and plains, and mountain slopes gladden the eye of its possessors? Be patient, my fellow Phantoms. Do not hasten to search for it. It is here. The Kingdom of Light, like the Kingdom of God, is within you. And what do I mean by the Kingdom of Light? I mean that realm of which a quaint cid peet sang those quaint old lines :
My mind to me a kingdom is,— Such perfect joy therein I find, As far exceeds all earthly blisis.
I mean that invisible commonwealth which outlives the storms of ages; that state whose ai naments are thoughts; wdiose weapons are ideas, whose trophies are the pages of the wor'd’s great masters.
The Kingdom of Light is the kingdom of intellect, ol the imagination, of the heart, of the spirit and the things of the spirit. And why, perhaps you are asking do you make this appeal to us? How dare you intimate that we are not already dedicated to high purposes, and enrolled among those who stand for the nobler and better things of human life? Take it not unkindly if I tell you frankly that a little plainness of speech will not hurt even such as we. All experience has shown that it is at our age, or thereabouts, that men are most prone to grow weary. It is not in the morning of' the march, but in the afternoon that soldiers find it most difficult to keep step with the column that follows the colors.
I have appealed to you for what I have called the intellectual life. By the intellectual life I mean that course of living which recognizes always and without ceasing the infinite value of the mind; which gives to its cultivation and to its enlargement a constant and enduring devotion; and which clings to it in good and in evil days with a growing and abiding love.
The Kingdom of Light is open to all who seek the light. This may appear a mere truism, since every one admits the superiority of the mental over the physical nature. But that is where the danger lies. All admit it; but how few act upon it! How many men and women do you know who after they have, as the phrase goes, finished their education, ever give a serious thought to their mental growth? They have no time; no time to live, but only to exist. Do not misunderstand me. I do not expect, nor do I think it possible, that the great majority of people can make intellectual improvement their first or onljr aim. God’s wisdom has made the law that man must dig and delve, must work with his hands and bend his back to the burden that is laid upon it. We must have bread; but how inexpressibly foolish it is to suppose we can live by bread alone.
Granting all that can be claimed for lack of time, for the food and clothing to be bought, and the debts to be paid, the truth remains—and I beg you to remember it,—the person who allows his mental and spiritual nature to stagnate and decay does so not for want of time, but for want of inclination. The farm, the shop, and the office are not such hard masters as we imagine. We yield too easily to their sway, and set them up as rulers when they ought to be only servants. There is no vocation—absolutely none—that
cuts off entirely the opportunities for intellectual development. The Kingdom of Light is an especially delightful home for him whose purse is not of sufficient weight to provide a home elsewhere, and a humble cottage in the Kingdom can be made to shine with a brightness above palace walls. For my part I would rather have been Charles Lamb than the Duke of Wellington, and his influence in the world is incalculably the greater of the two. And yet he was but a clerk in the India House, poor in pocket, but rich beyond measure in his very poverty, whose jewels are not in the goldsmith’s list. The problem of life is to rightly adjust the prose to the poetry; the sordid to the spiritual, the common and selfish to the high and beneficent, forgetting not that these last are incomparably the more precious.
Modern life is a startling contradiction. Never were colleges so numerous, so prosperous, so richly endowed as now. Never were public schools so well conducted, or so largely patronized. But yet, what Carlyle perhaps too bitterly calls “the mechanical spirit of the age” is upon us. The commercial spirit, too, is with us, holding its head so high that timid souls are frightened at its pretensions. It is the scholar’s duty to set his face resolutely against both.
I can never be the apostle of despair. The colors in the morning and the evening sky are brilliant yet.. But I fear the scholar is not the force he once was, and will again be when the twentieth century gets through its carnival of invention and construction. We have culture; what we need is the love of culture. We have knowledge; but our prayer should be, “Give us the love of knowledge.” It may be wrong, but I sometimes wish Nature would’ be more stingy of her secrets. She has given them out with so lavish a hand that some men think the greatest thing in the world is to persuade her to work in some newly invented harness. Edison and the other wizards of science have almost succeeded in making life automatic. Its chord is set to a minor key. Plain living and high thinking, that once went together, are transformed into high living and very plain thinking. The old1-time simplicity of manners, the modest tastes of our fathers, have given away to the clang and clash, the noise and turbulence that characterize the age. We know too much, and too little. We know the law of evolution; but who can tell us when, or how, or why it came to be the law? We accept it as a great scientific truth, and as such it should be welcomed. But life has lost something of its zest, some of the glory that uses to be in it, since we were told that mind is only an emanation of matter, a force or principle mechanically produced by molecular motion within tk° brain.
When the telephone burst upon us a few years ago, the world was delighted and amazed. And yet we were not needing telephones half as much as we were needing men; men who, by living above the common level, should exalt and dignify human life. I sometimes think it would be wise to close the Patent Office in Washington, and to. say to the tired brains of the inventors, “Rest and be refreshed.” We hurry on to new devices which shall be ears to the deaf, and eyes to the blind, and feet to the halt; but meantime the poems are unwritten, and hearts that are longing for one strain of music they used to hear are told to be satisfied with the great achievements of
the twentieth century. The wisest of the Greeks taught that the ideal is the only true real; and Emerson, our American seer, who sent forth from Concord his inspiring oracles, taught the same. I may be wrong, but I cannot help thinking that neither here nor hereafter does salvation lie in wheat, or corn, or iron.
Again I must plead that you take my words as I mean them. I do not preach a gospel of mere sentiment, nor of inane impracticable dilettanteism. The Lord put it in my way to learn, long ago, that we cannot eat poetry, or art, or sunbeams. And yet I hold it true, now and always, that life without these things is shorn of more than half its. value. The ox and his master differ little in dignity, if neither rises above the level of the stomach or the manger.
The highest use of the mind is not mere logic, the almost mechanical function of drawing conclusions from facts. Even lawyers do that; and so, also, to some extent, as naturalists tell us, do the horse and the dog. The human intellect is best used when its possessor suffers it to reach out beyond its own environment into the realm where God has placed truth and beauty and the influences that make for righteousness. There is no such thing as a common or humdrum life, unless we make it so ourselves. The rainbow and the rose will give their colors to aB alike. The sense of beauty that is born in every soul pleads for permission to remain there. Cast it out, and not all the skill of Edison can replace it.
It is the imagination, or perhaps I should say the imaginative faculty, that most largely separates man from the lower animals, and that also divides the higher from the lower order of men. We all respect the multiplication table, and find in it about the only platform upon which we can agree to stand; but he would be a curiously incomplete man to whose soul it would bring the rapture that comes from reading “Hamlet” or “In Memoriam.” The thoughts that console and elevate are not those the world calls practical. Even in the higher walks of science, where the mind enlarges to the scope of Newton’s and Kepler’s great discoveries, the demonstrated truth is not the whole truth, nor the best truth. As Professor Everett, of Harvard, has finely said in a recent work “Science only gives us hints of what, by a higher method, we come to know. The astronomer tells us he has swept the heavens with his telescope and found no God.” But “the eye of the soul” out sweeps the telescope, and finds, not only in the heavens, but everywhere, the presence that is eternal. The reverent soul, seeking for the power that, makes for righteousness, will not find it set down in scientific formula. I hold it to be the true office of culture.—if I may use that much-derided word—to. stimulate the higher intellectual faculties; to give the mind something of that perfection which is found in finely tuned instruments that need only to be touched to give to give back noble and responsive melody. There is a music that has never been named; and yet so deep a meaning has it, that the very stars keep time to its celestial ryhthm.
There’s not the smallest orb which thou behoId’ st,
But in his motion like an angel sings,
Still quiring to the young-eyed cherubim;
Such harmony is in immortal souls.
The dwellers in the Kingdom of
Light have a steadfast love for things that cannot be computed, nor reckoned, nor measured. In the daily papers you may read the latest quotations of stocks and bonds, but once upon a time a little band of listeners heard the words, “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing ?” and went away with a lesson that Wall Street has yet to learn.
And now you are scornfully asking : “Do 3rou expect men to earn money by following those shadowy and intangible sentiments, which, however noble, are not yet current at the store and market? We must eat, though poetry and art and music perish from the earth.” Yes, so it would seem, but only seem. I cannot tell why, but I am sure that he who remembers that something divine is mixed in him with the clay, will find the way open for both the divine and the earthly. You will not starve for following the Light. But I beg of you to remember that this is not a question of incomes and profits. The things I plead for are not set down in ledgers. How hard to think of the unseffish and the ultimate, instead of the personal and immediate. Even unto Jesus they came and enquired, “Who is first in the Kingdom ' of Heaven ?” It is not strange, then, that we do not give up personal advantage here. But in the Kingdom of Light, in the life I am saying we ought to lead, nothing can be taken from us that can be compared with what we shall receive.
It is quite likely we may be poor, —though I am afraid we shall not be for in the twentieth century no man is safe from sudden wealth; but a worse calamity might befall us than poverty. St. Francis of Assisi, as Kenan has said, was, next to Jesus, the sweetest soul that ever walked this earth, and he condemned himself to hunger and rags. I do not advise you to follow him through the lonely forest and into the shaded glen where the birds used to welcome him to be their friend and companion ; but I do most assuredly think it better to live as he did, on bread and water and the cresses that grow by the mountain spring, than to give up the glor}r and joys of the higher life. In the Kingdom of Light there are friendships of inestimable value; friendships that are rest unto the body, and solace to the soul that is troubled. When Socrates was condemned, how promptly his spirit rose to meet the decree of the judges, as he told them of the felicity he should find in the change that would give him the opportunity of listening to the enchanting converse of Orptheus and Musaeus and Hesiod and Homer.
Such companionship is ours, through the instrumentality of books. Here, even in this Western land, the worthies of every age will come to our fireside; will travel with us on the distant journey ; will abide with us wherever our lot may be cast. And the smaller the orbit in which we move, the more contracted the scale of our personal relations, the more valuable and the more needful are those sweet relationships which James Martineau so aptly calls "the friendships of history.”
It is the fate of most of us to work either with hand or brain; but even in this short life a successfully conducted bank, or a bridge that you have built, or a lawsuit that you have won, have in themselves little of special significance or value. Very common men have done all these things. When I hear the glorification of the last twenty years, of the fields subdued, the roads rebuilt, the H
factories started, I sa}' to myself, "All these are good, but not so good' that we should make ourselves hoarse with huzzas, or that we should suppose for a moment they belong to the higher order of achievements.” Sometimes, too, when I hear the nois3T clamor over some great difficulty that has been conquered, I think of James Wolfe under the walls of Quebec, repeating sadly those lines of Gray’s "Elegy”:
The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power,
And all that beauty, all that wealth e’er gave,
Await alike th’ inevitable hour :
The paths of glory lead but to the grave.
And I think also how he turned to his officers with that pathetic prevision of the death that was to come to-morrow on the Heights of Abraham and said, "I would rather have written that poem than to take Quebec.” And he was right.
Indeed, if we but knew it, the citidel that crowns the mountain’s brow —nay, the mountains themselves, ancient, rugged, motionless,—are but toys compared with the silent, invisible, but eternal structure of God’s greatest handiwork, the mind.
I pray you remember there is, if we but search for it, something ennobling in every vocation; in every enterprise which engages the efforts of man. Do you think Michael Angelo reared the dome, and painted those immortal frescoes, simply because he had a contract to d'o so? Was the soldier who died at Marathon or Gettysburg thinking of the wages the state had promised him? Be assured that, whatever fate is to befall us, nothing so bad can come as to sink into that wretched existence where everything is forgotten but the profit of the hour ; the food, the raiment, the handful of silver, the ribbon to wear on the coat. It is but an old story I am telling; but I console myself wfith the reflection, that it cannot be told too often, and only by telling is it kept fresh in the
memory and in the heart. The world will go on buying and selling, hoping and fearing, loving and hating, and we shall be in the throng; but in God’s name let us not turn away from the Light, nor'from the Kingdom that is in the midst of the Light.