Orphic Sayings LI – C by Amos Bronson Alcott


The trump of reform is sounding throughout the world for a revolution of all human affairs. The issue we cannot doubt; yet the crises are not without alarm. Already is the axe laid at the root of that spreading tree, whose trunk is idolatry, whose branches are covetousness, war, and slavery, whose blossom is concupiscence, whose fruit is hate. Planted by Beelzebub, it shall be rooted up. Abaddon is pouring his vial on the earth.


Reformers are metallic; they are sharpest steel; they pierce whatsoever of evil or abuse they touch. Their souls are attempered in the fires of heaven; they are mailed in the might of principles, and God backs their purpose. They uproot institutions, erase traditions, revise usages, and renovate all things. They are the noblest of facts. Extant in time, they work for eternity; dwelling with men, they are with God.


Three qualities are essential to the reformer, — insight, veneration, valor. These are the arms with which he takes the world. He who wields these divinely shall make an encroachment upon his own age, and the centuries shall capitulate to him at last. To all else, are institutions, men, ages, invulnerable.


The reformer substitutes things for words, laws for usage, ideas for idols. But this is ever a deed, daring and damned, for which the culprit was aforetime cropped, exiled, or slain. In our time, his sentence is commuted to slight and starvation.


The words of a just man are mirrors in which the felon beholds his own features, and shrinks from the portrait painted therein by the speaker. Beware of a just man, he is a limner of souls; he draws in the colors of truth. Cunning durst not sit to him.


Divinely speaking, God is the only person. The personality of man is partial, derivative; not perfect, not original. He becomes more personal as he partakes more largely of divinity. Holiness embosoms him in the Godhead, and makes him one with Deity.


We are what we seek; desire, appetite, passion, draw our features, and show us whether we are gods or men, devils or beasts. Always is the soul portraying herself; the statue of our character is hewn from her affections and thoughts. — Wisdom is the soul in picture; holiness in sculpture.


Truth is most potent when she speaks in general and impersonal terms. Then she rebukes everybody, and all confess before her words. She draws her bow, and lets fly her arrows at broad venture into the ages, to pierce all evils and abuses at heart. She wounds persons through principles, on whose phylactery, “thou art the man,” is ever written to the eye of all men.


The saints are alone popular in heaven, not on earth; elect of God, they are spurned by the world. They hate their age, its applause, its awards, their own affections even, save as these unite them with justice, with valor, with God. Whoso loves father or mother, wife or child, houses or lands, pleasures or honors, or life, more than these, is an idolater, and worships idols of sense; his life is death; his love hate; his friends foes; his fame infamy.


Enduring fame is ever posthumous. The orbs of virtue and genius seldom culminate during their terrestrial periods. Slow is the growth of great names, slow the procession of excellence into arts, institutions, life. Ages alone reflect their fulness of lustre. The great not only unseal, but create the organs by which they are to be seen. Neither Socrates nor Jesus is yet visible to the world.


The man of sublime gifts has his temptation amidst the solitudes to which he is driven by his age as proof of his integrity. Yet nobly he withstands this trial, conquering both Satan and the world by overcoming himself. He bows not down before the idols of time, but is constant to the divine ideal that haunts his heart, — a spirit of serene and perpetual peace.


Oblivion of the world is knowledge of heaven, — of sin, holiness, — of time, eternity. The world, sin, time, are interpolations into the authentic scripture of the soul, denoting her lapse from God, innocence, heaven. Of these the child and God are alike ignorant. They have not fallen from their estate of divine intuition, into the dark domain of sense, wherein all is but shadowy reminiscence of substance and light, of innocence and clarity. Their life is above memory and hope, — a life, not of knowledge, but of sight.


The upright man holds fast his integrity amidst all reverses. Exiled by his principles from the world, a solitary amidst his age, he stands aloof from the busy haunts and low toils of his race. Amidst the general sterility he ripens for God. He is above the gauds and baits of sense. His taskmaster is in heaven; his field eternity; his wages peace. Away from him are all golden trophies, fames, honors, soft flatteries, comforts, homes, and couches in time. He lives in the smile of God; nor fears the frowns, nor courts the favor of men. With him the mint of immortal honor is not in the thronged market, but in the courts of the heart, whose awards bear not devices of applauding hosts, but of reviling soldiery, — of stakes and gibbets, — and are the guerdon not of the trial imposed, but of the valor that overcame it.


Always are the ages infested with dealers in stolen treasures. Church, state, school, traffic largely in such contraband wares, and would send genius and probity, as of old, Socrates and Jesus, into the markets and thoroughfares, to higgle with publicans and sophists for their own properties. But yet the wit and will of these same vagrants is not only coin, but stock in trade for all the business of the world. Mammon counterfeits the scripture of God, and his partners, the church, the state, the school, share the profit of his peculations on mankind.


Fools and blind! not bread, but the lack of it is God’s high argument. Wouldst enter into life? Beg bread then. In the kingdom of God are love and bread consociated, but in the realm of mammon, bread sojourns with lies, and truth is a starvling. Yet praised be God, he has bread in his exile which mammon knows not of.


Labor is sweet; nor is that a stern decree that sends man into the fields to earn his bread in the sweat of his face. Labor is primeval; it replaces man in Eden, — the garden planted by God. It exalts and humanizes the soul. Life in all its functions and relations then breathes of groves and fountains, of simplicity and health. Man discourses sublimely with the divinities over the plough, the spade, the sickle, marrying the soul and the soil by the rites of labor. Sloth is the tempter that beguiles him of innocence, and exiles him from Paradise. Let none esteem himself beloved of the divine Husbandman, unless he earn the wages of peace in his vineyard. Yet now the broad world is full of idlers; the fields are barren; the age is hungry; there is no corn. The harvests are of tares and not of wheat. Gaunt is the age; even as the seedsman winnows the chaff from the wheat, shall the winds of reform blow this vanity away.


Seek God in the seclusion of your own soul; the prince of devils in the midst of multitudes. Beelzebub rules masses, God individuals. Vox populi vox dei, — never, (save where passion and interest are silent,) but vox populi vox diaboli.


The ages dogmatize, and would stifle the freest and boldest thought. Their language is, — our possessions skirt space, and we veto all possible discoveries of time. We are heirs of all wisdom, all excellence; none shall pass our confines; vain is the dream of a wilderness of thought to be vanquished by rebellion against us; we inherit the patrimony of God, — all goods in the gift of omnipotence.


A man’s period is according to the directness and intensity of his light. Not erudition, not taste, not intellect, but character, describes his orbit and determines the worlds he shall enlighten. Genius and sanctity cast no shadow; like the sun at broad noon, the ray of these orbs pours direct intense on the world, and they are seen in their own light.


Character is the genius of conscience, as wit is of intellect. The prophet and bard are original men, and their lives and works being creations of divine art, are inimitable. Imitation and example are sepulchres in which the ages entomb their disciples. The followers of God are alone immortal.


It is life, not scripture; character, not biography, that renovates mankind. The letter of life vitiates its spirit. Virtue and genius refuse to be written. The scribe weaves his own mythus of superstition always into his scripture.


Opinions are life in foliage; deeds, in fruitage. Always is the fruitless tree accursed.


All scripture is the record of life, and is sacred or profane, as the life it records is holy or vile. Every noble life is a revelation from heaven, which the joy and hope of mankind preserve to the world. Nor while the soul endures, shall the book of revelation be sealed. Her scriptures, like herself, are inexhaustible, without beginning or end.


The current version of all sacred books is profane. The ignorance and passions of men interpolate themselves into the text, and vitiate both its doctrine and ethics. But this is revised, at successive eras, by prophets, who, holding direct communication with the source of life and truth, translate their eternal propositions from the sacred into the common speech of man, and thus give the word anew to the world.


A man must live his life to apprehend it. There have been few living men and hence few lives; most have lived their death. Men have no faith in life. There goes indeed a rumor through the ages concerning it, but the few, who affirm knowledge of the fact, are slain always to verify the popular doubt. Men assert, not the resurrection of the soul from the body, but of the body from the grave, as a revelation of life. Faithless and blind! the body is the grave; let the dead arise from these sepulchres of concupiscence, and know by experience that life is immortal. Only the living know that they live; the dead know only of death.


To apprehend a miracle, a man must first have wrought it. He knows only what he has lived, and interprets all facts in the light of his experience. Miracles are spiritual experiences, not feats of legerdemain, not freaks of nature. It is the spiritual sight that discerns whatsoever is painted to sense. Flesh is faithless and blind.


Facts, reported, are always false. Only sanctity and genius are eyewitnesses of the same; and their intuition, yet not their scriptures, are alone authentic. Not only all scripture, but all thought is fabulous. Life is the only pure fact, and this cannot be written to sense; it must be lived, and thus expurgate all scriptures.


Revelation is mediate or immediate; speculative or intuitive. It is addressed to conscience or reason, — to sight or sense. Reason receives the light through mediums and mediators; conscience direct from its source. The light of one is opake; of the other, clear. The prophet, whose eye is coincident with the celestial ray, receives this into his breast, and intensifying there, it kindles on his brow a serene and perpetual day. But the worldling, with face averted from God, reflects divinity through the obscure twilight of his own brain, and remains in the blindness of his own darkness, a deceptive meteor of the night.


The prophet appeals direct to the heart. He addresses the divine in the breast. His influence is subtle; the reverence he inspires occult. His words are winged with marvels; his deeds mysteries; his life a miracle. Piety kneels at the shrine of his genius, and reads his mystic scriptures, as oracles of the divinity in the breasts of all men


The true teacher defends his pupils against his own personal influence. He inspires self-trust. He guides their eyes from himself to the spirit that quickens him. He will have no disciples. A noble artist, he has visions of excellence and revelations of beauty, which he has neither impersonated in character, nor embodied in words. His life and teachings are but studies for yet nobler ideals.


A man’s idea of God corresponds to his ideal of himself. The nobler he is, the more exalted his God. His own culture and discipline are a revelation of divinity. He apprehends the divine character as he comprehends his own. Humanity is the glass of divinity; experience of the soul is a revelation of God.


Obedience is the mediator of the soul. It is the organ of immediate inspiration; the hierophant of the Godhead. It is the method of revelation; the law of all culture.


The laws of the soul and of nature are forecast and preordained in the spirit of God, and are ever executing themselves through conscience in man, and gravity in things. Man’s body and the world are organs, through which the retributions of the spiritual universe are justified to reason and sense. Disease and misfortune are memoranda of violations of the divine law, written in the letter of pain and evil.


The ritual of the soul is preordained in her relations to God, man, nature, herself. Life, with its varied duties, is her ordained worship; labor and meditation her sacraments. Whatsoever violates this order is idolatry and sacrilege. A holy spirit, she hallows all times, places, services; and perpetually she consecrates her temples, and ministers at the altars of her divinity. Her censer flames always toward heaven, and the spirit of God descends to kindle her devotions.


Except a man be born of water and of spirit, he cannot apprehend eternal life. Sobriety is clarity; sanctity is sight. John baptizes Jesus. Repent, abstain, resolve; — thus purify yourself in this laver of regeneration, and become a denizen of the kingdom of God.


Conceive of slaughter and flesh-eating in Eden.


Tradition suckles the young ages, who imbibe health or disease, insight or ignorance, valor or pusillanimity, as the stream of life flows down from urns of sobriety or luxury, from times of wisdom or folly, honor or shame.


Renounce the world, yourself; and you shall possess the world, yourself, and God.


Man’s impotence is his pusillanimity. Duty alone is necessity; valor, might. This bridles the actual, yokes circumstance to do its bidding, and wields the arms of omnipotence. Fidelity, magnanimity, win the crown of heaven, and invest the soul with the attributes of God.


All men honor meekness; and make her their confessor. She wins all hearts; all vulgar natures do her homage. The demons flee, and the unclean Calabans and Satyrs become menials in her imperial presence. She is the potentate of the world.


I love to regard all souls as babes, yet in their prime and innocency of being, nor would I upbraid rudely a fellow creature, but treat him as tenderly as an infant. I would be gentle alway. Gentleness is the divinest of graces, and all men joy in it. Yet seldom does it appear on earth. Not in the face of man, nor yet often in that of woman (O apostacy,) but in the countenance of childhood it sometimes lingers, even amidst the violence, the dispathy that beset it; there, for a little while, fed by divine fires, the serene flame glows, but soon flickers and dies away, choked by the passions and lusts of sense — its embers smouldering alone in the bosoms of men.


Individuals are sacred: creeds, usages, institutions, as they cherish and reverence the individual. The world, the state, the church, the school, all are felons whensoever they violate the sanctity of the private heart. God, with his saints and martyrs, holds thrones, polities, hierarchies, amenable to the same, and time pours her vial of just retribution on their heads. A man is divine; mightier, holier, than rulers or powers ordained of time.


The people look always for a political, not spiritual Messias. They desire a ruler from the world, not from heaven — a monarch who shall conform both church and state to their maxims and usages. So church and state become functions of the world, and mammon, with his court of priests and legislators, usurps the throne of conscience in the soul, to rule saints and prophets for a time.


Christendom is infidel. It violates the sanctity of man’s conscience. It speaks not from the lively oracles of the soul, but reads instead from the traditions of men. It quotes history, not life. It denounces as heresy and impiety the intuitions of the individual, denies the inspiration of souls, and intrudes human dogmas and usages between conscience and God. It excludes the saints from its bosom, and with these, excommunicates, as the archheretic, Jesus of Nazareth also.


Christians lean on Jesus, not on the soul. Such was not the doctrine of this noble reformer. He taught man’s independence of all men, and a faith and trust in the soul herself. Christianity is the doctrine of self-support. It teaches man to be upright, not supine. Jesus gives his arm to none save those who stand erect, independent of church, state, or the world, in the integrity of self-insight and valor. Cast aside thy crutch, O Christendom, and by faith in the soul, arise and walk. Thy faith alone shall make thee whole.


The pentecost of the soul draws near. Inspiration, silent long, is unsealing the lips of prophets and bards, and soon shall the vain babblings of men die away, and their ears be given to the words of the Holy Ghost; their tongues cloven with celestial eloquence.


It is because the soul is immortal that all her organs decease, and are again renewed. Growth and decay, sepulture and resurrection, tread fast on the heel of the other. Birth entombs death; death encradles birth. The incorruptible is ever putting off corruption; the immortal mortality. Nature, indeed, is but the ashes of the departed soul, and the body her urn.


Things are memoirs of ideas; ideas the body of laws; laws the breath of God. All nature is the sepulchre of the risen soul, life her epitaph, and scripture her obituary.


The soul doth not chronicle her age. Her consciousness opens in the dimness of tradition; she is cradled in mystery, and her infancy invested in fable. Yet a celestial light irradiates this obscurity of birth, and reveals her spiritual lineage. Ancestor of the world, prior to time, elder than her incarnation, neither spaces, times, genealogies, publish her date. Memory is the history, Hope the prophecy of her inborn eternity. Dateless, timeless, she is coeval with God.


Silence is the initiative to wisdom. Wit is silent, and justifies her children by their reverence of the voiceless oracles of the breast. Inspiration is dumb, a listener to the oracles during her nonage; suddenly she speaks, to mock the emptiness of all speech. Silence is the dialect of heaven; the utterance of Gods.

A Note on the Text:1st published in The Dial (January 1841) pp. 351-361. Source: The Dial (January 1841) pp. 351-361.