June 23

June 23, 1863

Tuesday. Another detail for foragers to-day. I made out to get on this time. The quartermaster's team goes to bring in the beef or mutton or whatever it is we may get.

June Twenty-Third

THE BROOK

It is the mountain to the sea
That makes a messenger of me:
And, lest I loiter on the way
And lose what I am sent to say,
He sets his reverie to song
And bids me sing it all day long.
John B. Tabb

 

 

This has been the warmest day yet this summer, and no sign of rain. We remained in line all day without intrenching when the enemy began to make quite a demonstration on our left. We threw up rifle pits but our division was so far in advance of the other two of our Corps, the rebs had a cross fire on us. Our skirmishers have been on the Weldon railroad most of the day until finally the First Division of our Corps began to destroy the track. It had only just begun when the force sent from the Vermont Brigade and the Eighty-seventh Pennsylvania of our brigade to protect it, were attacked, surrounded and about five hundred, including four officers and seventy-nine enlisted men from the Eighty-seventh, were either killed or taken prisoners. The Eighty-seventh had twenty-six killed and wounded. After this we all retired to the line occupied by us on the 21st of June.

Goethe

Wednesday, 23.

"As good

Not write as not be understood."

Yet the deepest truths are best read between the lines, and, for the most part, refuse to be written. Who tells all tells falsely. There are untold subtleties in things seen as unseen. Only the idealist touches the core of their secret tenderly, and extracts the mystery; Nature, like the coy Isis, disclosing these to none else. Most edifying is the author who suggests, and leaves to his reader the pleasure and profit of following his thought into its various relations with the whole of things, thus stimulating him to explore matters to their issues. The great masters have observed this fine law, and of modern scholars especially Goethe.

For whether considered as poet or naturalist, he is our finest example of the reverent faith in nature and tenderness of treatment that becomes her student and devotees. And hence the rich spoils and prime suggestions with which he charms and rewards in his books. Wooed in this spirit, nature vouchsafed him the privilege of reading her secrets. An eye-witness of the facts, he had the magic pen to portray them as they rose midway between matter and mind, there caught them lovingly and held them forth in intertwisted myths and gay marriages to the sense and sentiment of his reader. Writing faithfully to the form of things, he yet had a finer moral than these could deliver; the vein of quiet mysticism in which he delighted, giving a graceful charm to the writing. How finely his senses symbolized his thought, and his eye how Olympian! What subtle perception of the contraries in character! He has treated the strife of the Worst for the Best, the problem of evil, more cunningly than any; than Moses; than the author of Job of Uz; than Milton, the Puritan, fitted as he was alike by birth and culture to deal with this world fable,—his faith in nature being so entire, his rare gifts at instant command for rendering perfect copies of what he saw, and loved to represent in its truthfulness to sense and soul alike. A seer of Spirit, the draughtsman of guile; to him sat the demons gladly, and he sketched their likenesses,—portraits of the dualities he knew so well; the same with which most are too familiar; the drama of the temptation being coeval with man, the catastrophe thus far repeated disastrously, the striving of the Many against the One, the world-spirit bribing the will, proffering the present delights for the future pains. Ah! could he but have found himself in the One, whom, with such surpassing skill he individualized, but failed to impersonate. His aloofness from life, his residence in the Many, his inability to identify himself with the whole of things,—this duplicity of genius denied him free admittance to unity. Cunning he was, not wise in the simplicity of wisdom. As the Fates conceived, so they slew him, yet by subtleties so siren, as to persuade him of an immortality not theirs to bestow. All he was, his Faust celebrates—admitted to heaven, as Goethe to glory, without the fee that opens honestly its gates.

Oh, artist of beauty! Couldst thou but have been equal to portray the Spirit of spirits as cunningly as of Matter! But it was the temper of that age of transition, and thou wast its priest and poet.

But whatever his deficiencies, he has been one of the world's teachers, and is to be for some time to come. The spirit and movement of an age are embodied in his books, and one reads with a growing reverence at every perusal of the mind that saw and has portrayed the world-spirit so well. If not the man complete that in our admiration of his genius we could desire, he yet was faithful to the law of his pen, and therewith justifies his existence to mankind. Nor do I find any of his contemporaries who made as much of this human life during his century. "Light, more light!" With this request he passed behind the clouds into the fullest radiance.

Carlyle

The ancients accepted in good faith the sway of Fate, or Temperament, in their doctrine of Destinies, hereby signifying that duplicity or polarity of forces operative in man's Will by which his personal freedom is abridged, if not overridden. Nor does it appear that they conceived deliverance possible from this dread Nemesis of existence; it was wrought into the substance of their tragedies, binding matter and mind alike in chains. If the modern thought professes to be freed from this Old Fatalism, it practically admits it, nevertheless; man's will being still bound in fetters by inexorable powers, which his Choice can neither propitiate nor overcome. If Goethe treats the matter more forcibly, sharply, his dealing differs but in form from the Pagan; man is the spoil of the demons still. Satan is suppressed for the moment to be victorious in the end.Carlyle only renders it the more inexorable and dismaying by all his wealth of thought, force of illustration, his formidable historical figures, dramatic genius. It is force pitted against force that he celebrates throughout his embattled pages; a victim himself with his heroes, yet like them never the victor; all irritants, but not quellers of the demon; fixed forces in transition times.

Only seen from this, his habitual standpoint and outlook, is he justified as the consistent realist, holding fast his faith in the actual facts of the world, their rigorous following to the remotest issues,—the most heroic of thinkers. What if, with these dread convictions and insights of his, he paint out of all keeping with the actual facts; he is following logically his persuasions of the destinies that sway human concerns, abating not an iota of the letter of the text of the dread decalogue, whether for the wicked or the weak; defending his view of the right at all costs whatsoever. Justice first, mercy afterwards. His books opened anywhere show him berating the wrong he sees, but seldom the means of removing. There is ever the same melancholy advocacy of work to be done under the dread master: force of strokes, the right to rule and be ruled, the dismal burden. He rides his Leviathan as fiercely as did his countryman, Hobbes; can be as truculent and abusive. Were he not thus fatally in earnest, we should take him for the harlequin he often seems, not seeing the sorrowing sadness thusplaying off its load in this grotesque mirth, this scornful irony of his; he painting in spite of himself his portraits in the warmth of admiration, the blaze of wrath, giving us mythology for history mostly.

Yet with what breadth of perspective he paints these! strength of outline, the realism appalling, the egotism enormous,—all history showing in the background of his one figure, Carlyle,—Burns, Goethe, Richter, Mirabeau, Luther, Cromwell, Frederick,—all dashed from his flashing pen,—heads of himself alike in their unlikeness, prodigiously individual, wilful, some of them monstrous; all Englishmen, too, with their egregious prejudices, prides; no patience, no repose in any. He brandishes his truncheon through his pages with an adroitness that renders it unsafe for any, save the few wielding weapons of celestial temper, to do battle against Abaddon.

Nor will he be silenced; talking terribly against all talking but his own; agreeing, disagreeing, all the same, he the Jove permitting none, none, to mount Olympus till the god deign silence and invite. Curious to see him monologizing, his chin aloft, the pent thunders rolling, lightnings darting from under his bold brows, words that tell of the wail within, accents not meant for music, yet made lyrical in the cadences of his Caledonian refrain, his mirth mad as Lear's, his humor wilful as the winds. Not himself then is approachable by himself even.

A lovable man, nevertheless, with a great heart in his breast, sympathies the kindliest, deepest, nor indifferent to the ills the flesh is heir to. Why, oh ye powers, this wretchedness amidst the means superabounding for relieving and preventing it? Why this taking up reform forever from the beggar and felon side, as if these were sole credentials to sympathy, essential elements of the social state? Rather let force, persistent yet beneficent, be brought to bear upon mankind, giving alike to prince and people the dutiful drill that alone equips for the tasks of life,—this were the State's duty, the province of rulers; a thing to set about at once with the vigor of righteousness that justice demands for the rule of the world.

The way of Imperialism this, and playing Providence harshly. He mistakes in commending absolutism to republicans, especially in times like ours. England, even, imperial as she is, is too intelligent and free to accept it. America certainly cannot. If he would but believe in the people, divide his faith in hero-worship with masses, also. But it is not easy for a Briton to comprehend properly republican institutions like ours. Nothing short of success against large odds can convince him of the feasibility, the safety of a popular government.

"Success, success; to thee, to thee,

As to a god, he bends the knee."

Not one of his heroes would serve our turn. Frederick were perhaps a fit captain to dominate over a brute multitude; Cromwell might serve in a state of revolution, but must fail altogether at reconstruction. Even Milton, the republican, would hardly avail with republicans freed from the old British love of sway.

It is not safe for any to dwell long on Sinai, leaving the multitudes meanwhile to their idolatries below. In rigors thus austere the humanities perish. Justice and mercy must alike conspire in the fulfilment of the decalogue, lest vengeance break the tables and shatter the divine image also.

"When heaven would save a man, it encircles him with compassion."