My last remark is on that notablest phasis of Burns's history,--his visit to Edinburgh. Often it seems to me as if his demeanor there were the highest proof he gave of what a fund of worth and genuine manhood was in him. If we think of it, few heavier burdens could be laid on the strength of a man. So sudden; all common _Lionism_. which ruins innumerable men, was as nothing to this. It is as if Napoleon had been made a King of, not gradually, but at once from the Artillery Lieutenancy in the Regiment La Fere. Burns, still only in his twenty-seventh year, is no longer even a ploughman; he is flying to the West Indies to escape disgrace and a jail. This month he is a ruined peasant, his wages seven pounds a year, and these gone from him: next month he is in the blaze of rank and beauty, handing down jewelled Duchesses to dinner; the cynosure of all eyes! Adversity is sometimes hard upon a man; but for one man who can stand prosperity, there are a hundred that will stand adversity. I admire much the way in which Burns met all this. Perhaps no man one could point out, was ever so sorely tried, and so little forgot himself. Tranquil, unastonished; not abashed, not inflated, neither awkwardness nor affectation: he feels that _he_ there is the man Robert Burns; that the "rank is but the guinea-stamp;" that the celebrity is but the candle-light, which will show _what_ man, not in the least make him a better or other man! Alas, it may readily, unless he look to it, make him a _worse_ man; a wretched inflated wind-bag,--inflated till he _burst_, and become a _dead_ lion; for whom, as some one has said, "there is no resurrection of the body;" worse than a living dog!--Burns is admirable here.
And yet, alas, as I have observed elsewhere, these Lion-hunters were the ruin and death of Burns. It was they that rendered it impossible for him to live! They gathered round him in his Farm; hindered his industry; no place was remote enough from them. He could not get his Lionism forgotten, honestly as he was disposed to do so. He falls into discontents, into miseries, faults; the world getting ever more desolate for him; health, character, peace of mind, all gone;--solitary enough now. It is tragical to think of! These men came but to _see_ him; it was out of no sympathy with him, nor no hatred to him. They came to get a little amusement; they got their amusement;--and the Hero's life went for it!
Richter says, in the Island of Sumatra there is a kind of "Light-chafers," large Fire-flies, which people stick upon spits, and illuminate the ways with at night. Persons of condition can thus travel with a pleasant radiance, which they much admire. Great honor to the Fire-flies! But--!
[May 22, 1840.] LECTURE VI. THE HERO AS KING. CROMWELL, NAPOLEON: MODERN REVOLUTIONISM.
We come now to the last form of Heroism; that which we call Kingship. The Commander over Men; he to whose will our wills are to be subordinated, and loyally surrender themselves, and find their welfare in doing so, may be reckoned the most important of Great Men. He is practically the summary for us of _all_ the various figures of Heroism; Priest, Teacher, whatsoever of earthly or of spiritual dignity we can fancy to reside in a man, embodies itself here, to _command_ over us, to furnish us with constant practical teaching, to tell us for the day and hour what we are to _do_. He is called _Rex_, Regulator, _Roi_: our own name is still better; King, _Konning_, which means _Can_-ning, Able-man.
Numerous considerations, pointing towards deep, questionable, and indeed unfathomable regions, present themselves here: on the most of which we must resolutely for the present forbear to speak at all. As Burke said that perhaps fair _Trial by Jury_ was the soul of Government, and that all legislation, administration, parliamentary debating, and the rest of it, went on, in "order to bring twelve impartial men into a jury-box;"--so, by much stronger reason, may I say here, that the finding of your _Ableman_ and getting him invested with the _symbols of ability_, with dignity, worship (_worth_-ship), royalty, kinghood, or whatever we call it, so that _he_ may actually have room to guide according to his faculty of doing it,--is the business, well or ill accomplished, of all social procedure whatsoever in this world! Hustings-speeches, Parliamentary motions, Reform Bills, French Revolutions, all mean at heart this; or else nothing. Find in any country the Ablest Man that exists there; raise _him_ to the supreme place, and loyally reverence him: you have a perfect government for that country; no ballot-box, parliamentary eloquence, voting, constitution-building, or other machinery whatsoever can improve it a whit. It is in the perfect state; an ideal country. The Ablest Man; he means also the truest-hearted, justest, the Noblest Man: what he _tells us to do_ must be precisely the wisest, fittest, that we could anywhere or anyhow learn;--the thing which it will in all ways behoove US, with right loyal thankfulness and nothing doubting, to do! Our _doing_ and life were then, so far as government could regulate it, well regulated; that were the ideal of constitutions.
Alas, we know very well that Ideals can never be completely embodied in practice. Ideals must ever lie a very great way off; and we will right thankfully content ourselves with any not intolerable approximation thereto! Let no man, as Schiller says, too querulously "measure by a scale of perfection the meagre product of reality" in this poor world of ours. We will esteem him no wise man; we will esteem him a sickly, discontented, foolish man. And yet, on the other hand, it is never to be forgotten that Ideals do exist; that if they be not approximated to at all, the whole matter goes to wreck! Infallibly. No bricklayer builds a wall _perfectly_ perpendicular, mathematically this is not possible; a certain degree of perpendicularity suffices him; and he, like a good bricklayer, who must have done with his job, leaves it so. And yet if he sway _too much_ from the perpendicular; above all, if he throw plummet and level quite away from him, and pile brick on brick heedless, just as it comes to hand--! Such bricklayer, I think, is in a bad way. He has forgotten himself: but the Law of Gravitation does not forget to act on him; he and his wall rush down into confused welter of ruin!--
This is the history of all rebellions, French Revolutions, social explosions in ancient or modern times. You have put the too _Un_able Man at the head of affairs! The too ignoble, unvaliant, fatuous man. You have forgotten that there is any rule, or natural necessity whatever, of putting the Able Man there. Brick must lie on brick as it may and can. Unable Simulacrum of Ability, _quack_, in a word, must adjust himself with quack, in all manner of administration of human things;--which accordingly lie unadministered, fermenting into unmeasured masses of failure, of indigent misery: in the outward, and in the inward or spiritual, miserable millions stretch out the hand for their due supply, and it is not there. The "law of gravitation" acts; Nature's laws do none of them forget to act. The miserable millions burst forth into Sansculottism, or some other sort of madness: bricks and bricklayer lie as a fatal chaos!--