Letter V. October 24, 1818
My dear Greaves,
I do not mean to anticipate the answer of the mother. But it is highly probable, that her enquiries will terminate in the sad conviction, that none of the individuals in question seem to be invested with that happiness, true, essential, and undisturbed, child.
Here, then, she will sigh over the imperfections of human nature, the inconsistencies of human pursuits. Is it possible, she will exclaim, that with all this fertility of genius, all this comprehension of mind, all these charities of heart, happiness should still be unattained?
Now this is precisely the point to which I would bring her. ("How is it possible?") is a phrase so common with us, that we quite forget its original meaning. It is a question, but we never fail to evade its legitimate answer. It is a question to ourselves, but we consciously shrink back from the task of meeting it with a fair and open reply. Let it be otherwise in the present instance. Let the mother go on to examine the nature of this possibility, and she will soon be sensible of her approximation to the truth she is in search of. She must be aware, that mere executive talent, however splendid; mere mental capacity, however vast; mere good nature, however diffusive, are still endowments infinetely inferior to the conditions of human happiness. And here I am about to allude to a fundamental error which prevails in education, as well as in our judgment of men and things. What, I would ask, can be the true, intrinsic use of the utmost possible exertions, unless regulated by accuracy of ideas, elevated and universal perceptions, and, above all, under the control of, and founded on the noblest sentiments of the heart, a firm and steady will? And again, I ask, what can be the real use and merit of schemes, however deep or ingenious, if the energy of exertion be not equal to the boldness and skill of the conception, or even if the two powers are combined, but are not working for an end worthy of themselves, and propitious to humanity? It is obvious then, that a mere cultivation of the talents of our animal and intellectual nature will be found absolutely inefficient as a substitute for the heart.
This, then, will appear to be the true basis of human happiness. But I must even here warn you against a possible mistake, by pointing out the features of a character likely to mislead you, and which is so often met within our passage through life, that none of us shall dispute the existence of an original. I refer to one, whose mind is pregnant with good intentions, his heart overflowing with amiable dispositions, and his zeal ever ready to patronize and promote any worthy enterprise, that has for its object the benefit of society. I need not name to you all the admirable points of such a character; so much kindness, benevolence, and warmth, cannot fail of seeming to you irresistibly attractive. And yet it is a fact, but too often confirmed by experience, that all this constellation of excellencies may glow and sparkle in vain; that such a temperament, however finely constituted, may yet live and move to little purpose, in reference to others, and to itself fail of securing that happiness which is asserted to be the inseparable concomitant of virtue. The reason is evident: the heart, the grand wheel in the human mechanism, may have been long and actively at work, but for want of being connected in due time with those other powers of human nature, whose co-operation is equally essential, it has failed of producing that health and vitality which would otherwise have pervaded the system. The faculties of man must be so cultivated that no one shall predominate at the expense of another, but each be excited to the true standard of activity; (and this standard is the spiritual nature of man.)
And here allow me to expatiate again on the principal result of these important truths; again to touch upon them in order to the character I am addressing.
"Happy mother! thou art delighting thyself in the first efforts of thy child, and they are delightful; muse upon them, pass them not by, - they are the germs of future action, they are all-important to thee and to him, and should furnish thee with many a long train of prolific thought.
"God has given to thy child all the faculties of our nature; but the grand point remains yet undecided! How shall this heart, this head, these hands, be employed? to whose service shall they be dedicated? A query, the answer to which involves a futurity of happiness, or unhappiness, to the life so dear to thee. "God has given thy child a spiritual nature; that is to say, He has implanted in him the voice of conscience; and He has done more, - He has given him the faculty of attending to this voice. He has given him an eye, whose natural turn is heavenward; teaching thee, in this alone, the elevation of his destiny; and disclaiming for him all affinity to the inferior creatures, whose downward looks speak as expressively of the earth whither they are tending.
"Thy child, then, was created, not for earth, but for heaven. Dost thou know the way that leads thither? Thy child would never find it, nor would any other mortal be able to lead the way, if divine mercy did not reveal it to him. But it is not enough to know this way: thy child must learn to walk in it, "It is recorded, thou knowest, that God opened the heavens to one of the patriarchs of old, and showed him a ladder leading to their azure heights! Well, this ladder is let down to every descendant of Adam; it is tendered to thy child. But he must be taught to climb it. And let him take heed not to attempt it, nor think to scale it, by cold calculations of the head, - nor be compelled to adventure it by the mere impulse of the heart: - but let all these powers combine, and the noble enterprise will be crowned with success.
"All these powers are already bestowed on him: but thine is the province to assist in calling them forth. Let the ladder leading to heaven be constantly before thine eyes, even the ladder of (Faith,) on which thou mayest behold ascending and descending the angels of (Hope and Love.") (PSW 26 p. 55-58)