Thus am I doubly armed: my death and life,
My bane and antidote, are both before me.
This in a moment brings me to an end;
But this informs me I shall never die.
The soul, secured in her existence, smiles
At the drawn dagger, and defies its point.
The stars shall fade away, the sun himself
Grow dim with age, and Nature sink in years;
But thou shalt flourish in immortal youth,
Unhurt amid the war of elements,
The wreck of matter, and the crash of worlds!
Men are not punished for their sins, but by them.
Expression is necessary to life. The spirit grows through exercise of its faculties, just as a muscle grows strong through use. Life is expression and repression is stagnation–death.
Yet there is right expression and wrong expression. If a man allows his life to run riot, and only the animal side of his nature is allowed to express itself, he is repressing his highest and best, and therefore those qualities, not used, atrophy and die.
Sensuality, gluttony and the life of license repress the life of the spirit, and the soul never blossoms; and this is what it is to lose one’s soul. All adown the centuries thinking men have noted these truths, and again and again we find individuals forsaking, in horror, the life of the senses and devoting themselves to the life of the spirit.
The question of expression through the spirit or through the senses–through the soul or the body–has been the pivotal point of all philosophies and the inspiration of all religions. Asceticism in our day finds an interesting manifestation in the Trappists, who live on a mountain, nearly inaccessible, and deprive themselves of almost every vestige of bodily comfort; going without food for days, wearing uncomfortable garments, suffering severe cold. So here we find the extreme instance of men repressing the faculties of the body in order that the spirit may find ample time and opportunity for exercise.
Between this extreme repression and the license of the sensualist lies the truth. But just where, is the great question; and the desire of one person, who thinks he has discovered the norm, to compel all other men to stop there, has led to war and strife untold. All law centers around this point–what shall men be allowed to do? And so we find statutes to punish “strolling play-actors,” “players on fiddles,” “disturbers of the public conscience,” “persons who dance wantonly,” “blasphemers,” etc. In England there were, in the year Eighteen Hundred, sixty-seven offenses punishable with death.
What expression is right and what is not is largely a matter of opinion. Instrumental music has been to some a rock of offense, exciting the spirit, through the sense of hearing, to wrong thoughts–through “the lascivious pleasing of a lute.” Others think dancing wicked, while a few allow square dances, but condemn the waltz. Some sects allow pipe-organ music, but draw the line at the violin; while others, still, employ a whole orchestra in their religious service. Some there may be who regard pictures as implements of idolatry, while the Hook-and-Eye Baptists look upon buttons as immoral.
Strange evolutions are often witnessed within the life of one individual, as to what is right and what wrong. For instance, Leo Tolstoy, that great and good man, once a worldling, has now turned ascetic, a not unusual evolution in the lives of the saints. Not caring for harmony as expressed in color, form and sounds, Tolstoy is now quite willing to deprive all others of these things which minister to their well-being. There is in most souls a hunger for beauty, just as there is a physical hunger. Beauty speaks to their spirits through the senses; but Tolstoy would have his house barren to the verge of hardship, and he advocates that all other houses should be likewise. My veneration for Count Tolstoy is profound, but I mention him here simply to show the danger that lies in allowing any man, even one of the best, to dictate to us what is right.