WHAT IS MAN?
Mark Twain (1906)
a. Man the Machine. b. Personal Merit
[The Old Man and the Young Man had been conversing. The Old Man had asserted
that the human being is merely a machine, and nothing more. The Young Man
objected, and asked him to go into particulars and furnish his reasons for his
Old Man. What are the materials of which a steam-engine is made?
Young Man. Iron, steel, brass, white-metal, and so on.
O.M. Where are these found?
Y.M. In the rocks.
O.M. In a pure state?
Y.M. No—in ores.
O.M. Are the metals suddenly deposited in the ores?
Y.M. No—it is the patient work of countless ages.
O.M. You could make the engine out of the rocks themselves?
Y.M. Yes, a brittle one and not valuable.
O.M. You would not require much, of such an engine as that?
Y.M. No—substantially nothing.
O.M. To make a fine and capable engine, how would you proceed?
Y.M. Drive tunnels and shafts into the hills; blast out the iron ore; crush it,
smelt it, reduce it to pig-iron; put some of it through the Bessemer process and
make steel of it. Mine and treat and combine several metals of which brass is
Y.M. Out of the perfected result, build the fine engine.
O.M. You would require much of this one?
Y.M. Oh, indeed yes.
O.M. It could drive lathes, drills, planers, punches, polishers, in a word all
the cunning machines of a great factory?
Y.M. It could.
O.M. What could the stone engine do?
Y.M. Drive a sewing-machine, possibly—nothing more, perhaps.
O.M. Men would admire the other engine and rapturously praise it?
O.M. But not the stone one?
O.M. The merits of the metal machine would be far above those of the stone one?
Y.M. Of course.
O.M. Personal merits?
Y.M. Personal merits? How do you mean?
O.M. It would be personally entitled to the credit of its own performance?
Y.M. The engine? Certainly not.
O.M. Why not?
Y.M. Because its performance is not personal. It is the result of the law of
construction. It is not a merit that it does the things which it is set to
do—it can't help doing them.
O.M. And it is not a personal demerit in the stone machine that it does so
Y.M. Certainly not. It does no more and no less than the law of its make permits
and compels it to do. There is nothing personal about it; it cannot choose. In
this process of "working up to the matter" is it your idea to work up to the
proposition that man and a machine are about the same thing, and that there is
no personal merit in the performance of either?
O.M. Yes—but do not be offended; I am meaning no offense. What makes the grand
difference between the stone engine and the steel one? Shall we call it
training, education? Shall we call the stone engine a savage and the steel one a
civilized man? The original rock contained the stuff of which the steel one was
built—but along with a lot of sulphur and stone and other obstructing inborn
heredities, brought down from the old geologic ages—prejudices, let us call
them. Prejudices which nothing within the rock itself had either power to remove
or any desire to remove. Will you take note of that phrase?
Y.M. Yes. I have written it down; "Prejudices which nothing within the rock
itself had either power to remove or any desire to remove." Go on.
O.M. Prejudices must be removed by outside influences or not at all. Put that
Y.M. Very well; "Must be removed by outside influences or not at all." Go on.
O.M. The iron's prejudice against ridding itself of the cumbering rock. To make
it more exact, the iron's absolute indifference as to whether the rock be
removed or not. Then comes the outside influence and grinds the rock to powder
and sets the ore free. The iron in the ore is still captive. An outside
influence smelts it free of the clogging ore. The iron is emancipated iron, now,
but indifferent to further progress. An outside influence beguiles it into the
Bessemer furnace and refines it into steel of the first quality. It is educated,
now—its training is complete. And it has reached its limit. By no possible
process can it be educated into gold. Will you set that down?
Y.M. Yes. "Everything has its limit—iron ore cannot be educated into gold."
O.M. There are gold men, and tin men, and copper men, and leaden men, and steel
men, and so on—and each has the limitations of his nature, his heredities, his
training, and his environment. You can build engines out of each of these
metals, and they will all perform, but you must not require the weak ones to do
equal work with the strong ones. In each case, to get the best results, you must
free the metal from its obstructing prejudicial ones by education—smelting,
refining, and so forth.
Y.M. You have arrived at man, now?
O.M. Yes. Man the machine—man the impersonal engine. Whatsoever a man is, is
due to his make, and to the influences brought to bear upon it by his
heredities, his habitat, his associations. He is moved, directed, COMMANDED, by
exterior influences—solely. He originates nothing, not even a thought.
Y.M. Oh, come! Where did I get my opinion that this which you are talking is all
O.M. It is a quite natural opinion—indeed an inevitable opinion—but you did
not create the materials out of which it is formed. They are odds and ends of
thoughts, impressions, feelings, gathered unconsciously from a thousand books, a
thousand conversations, and from streams of thought and feeling which have
flowed down into your heart and brain out of the hearts and brains of centuries
of ancestors. Personally you did not create even the smallest microscopic
fragment of the materials out of which your opinion is made; and personally you
cannot claim even the slender merit of putting the borrowed materials together.
That was done automatically—by your mental machinery, in strict accordance
with the law of that machinery's construction. And you not only did not make
that machinery yourself, but you have not even any command over it.
Y.M. This is too much. You think I could have formed no opinion but that one?
O.M. Spontaneously? No. And you did not form that one; your machinery did it for
you—automatically and instantly, without reflection or the need of it.
Y.M. Suppose I had reflected? How then?
O.M. Suppose you try?
Y.M. (After a quarter of an hour.) I have reflected.
O.M. You mean you have tried to change your opinion—as an experiment?
O.M. With success?
Y.M. No. It remains the same; it is impossible to change it.
O.M. I am sorry, but you see, yourself, that your mind is merely a machine,
nothing more. You have no command over it, it has no command over itself—it is
worked solely from the outside. That is the law of its make; it is the law of
Y.M. Can't I ever change one of these automatic opinions?
O.M. No. You can't yourself, but exterior influences can do it.
Y.M. And exterior ones only?
O.M. Yes—exterior ones only.
Y.M. That position is untenable—I may say ludicrously untenable.
O.M. What makes you think so?
Y.M. I don't merely think it, I know it. Suppose I resolve to enter upon a
course of thought, and study, and reading, with the deliberate purpose of
changing that opinion; and suppose I succeed. That is not the work of an
exterior impulse, the whole of it is mine and personal; for I originated the
O.M. Not a shred of it. It grew out of this talk with me. But for that it would
not have occurred to you. No man ever originates anything. All his thoughts, all
his impulses, come from the outside.
Y.M. It's an exasperating subject. The first man had original thoughts, anyway;
there was nobody to draw from.
O.M. It is a mistake. Adam's thoughts came to him from the outside. You have a
fear of death. You did not invent that—you got it from outside, from talking
and teaching. Adam had no fear of death—none in the world.
Y.M. Yes, he had.
O.M. When he was created?
O.M. When, then?
Y.M. When he was threatened with it.
O.M. Then it came from outside. Adam is quite big enough; let us not try to make
a god of him. None but gods have ever had a thought which did not come from the
outside. Adam probably had a good head, but it was of no sort of use to him
until it was filled up from the outside. He was not able to invent the
triflingest little thing with it. He had not a shadow of a notion of the
difference between good and evil—he had to get the idea from the outside.
Neither he nor Eve was able to originate the idea that it was immodest to go
naked; the knowledge came in with the apple from the outside. A man's brain is
so constructed that it can originate nothing whatsoever. It can only use
material obtained outside. It is merely a machine; and it works automatically,
not by will-power. It has no command over itself, its owner has no command over
Y.M. Well, never mind Adam: but certainly Shakespeare's creations—
O.M. No, you mean Shakespeare's imitations. Shakespeare created nothing. He
correctly observed, and he marvelously painted. He exactly portrayed people whom
God had created; but he created none himself. Let us spare him the slander of
charging him with trying. Shakespeare could not create. He was a machine, and
machines do not create.
Y.M. Where was his excellence, then?
O.M. In this. He was not a sewing-machine, like you and me; he was a Gobelin
loom. The threads and the colors came into him from the outside; outside
influences, suggestions, experiences (reading, seeing plays, playing plays,
borrowing ideas, and so on), framed the patterns in his mind and started up his
complex and admirable machinery, and it automatically turned out that pictured
and gorgeous fabric which still compels the astonishment of the world. If
Shakespeare had been born and bred on a barren and unvisited rock in the ocean
his mighty intellect would have had no outside material to work with, and could
have invented none; and no outside influences, teachings, moldings, persuasions,
inspirations, of a valuable sort, and could have invented none; and so
Shakespeare would have produced nothing. In Turkey he would have produced
something—something up to the highest limit of Turkish influences,
associations, and training. In France he would have produced something
better—something up to the highest limit of the French influences and
training. In England he rose to the highest limit attainable through the outside
helps afforded by that land's ideals, influences, and training. You and I are
but sewing-machines. We must turn out what we can; we must do our endeavor and
care nothing at all when the unthinking reproach us for not turning out
Y.M. And so we are mere machines! And machines may not boast, nor feel proud of
their performance, nor claim personal merit for it, nor applause and praise. It
is an infamous doctrine.
O.M. It isn't a doctrine, it is merely a fact.
Y.M. I suppose, then, there is no more merit in being brave than in being a
O.M. Personal merit? No. A brave man does not create his bravery. He is entitled
to no personal credit for possessing it. It is born to him. A baby born with a
billion dollars—where is the personal merit in that? A baby born with
nothing—where is the personal demerit in that? The one is fawned upon,
admired, worshiped, by sycophants, the other is neglected and despised—where
is the sense in it?
Y.M. Sometimes a timid man sets himself the task of conquering his cowardice and
becoming brave—and succeeds. What do you say to that?
O.M. That it shows the value of training in right directions over training in
wrong ones. Inestimably valuable is training, influence, education, in right
directions—training one's self-approbation to elevate its ideals.
Y.M. But as to merit—the personal merit of the victorious coward's project and
O.M. There isn't any. In the world's view he is a worthier man than he was
before, but he didn't achieve the change—the merit of it is not his.
Y.M. Whose, then?
O.M. His make, and the influences which wrought upon it from the outside.
Y.M. His make?
O.M. To start with, he was not utterly and completely a coward, or the
influences would have had nothing to work upon. He was not afraid of a cow,
though perhaps of a bull: not afraid of a woman, but afraid of a man. There was
something to build upon. There was a seed. No seed, no plant. Did he make that
seed himself, or was it born in him? It was no merit of his that the seed was
Y.M. Well, anyway, the idea of cultivating it, the resolution to cultivate it,
was meritorious, and he originated that.
O.M. He did nothing of the kind. It came whence all impulses, good or bad,
come—from outside. If that timid man had lived all his life in a community of
human rabbits, had never read of brave deeds, had never heard speak of them, had
never heard any one praise them nor express envy of the heroes that had done
them, he would have had no more idea of bravery than Adam had of modesty, and it
could never by any possibility have occurred to him to resolve to become brave.
He could not originate the idea—it had to come to him from the outside. And
so, when he heard bravery extolled and cowardice derided, it woke him up. He was
ashamed. Perhaps his sweetheart turned up her nose and said, "I am told that you
are a coward!" It was not he that turned over the new leaf—she did it for him.
He must not strut around in the merit of it —it is not his.
Y.M. But, anyway, he reared the plant after she watered the seed.
O.M. No. Outside influences reared it. At the command—and trembling—he
marched out into the field—with other soldiers and in the daytime, not alone
and in the dark. He had the influence of example, he drew courage from his
comrades' courage; he was afraid, and wanted to run, but he did not dare; he was
afraid to run, with all those soldiers looking on. He was progressing, you
see—the moral fear of shame had risen superior to the physical fear of harm.
By the end of the campaign experience will have taught him that not all who go
into battle get hurt—an outside influence which will be helpful to him; and he
will also have learned how sweet it is to be praised for courage and be huzza'd
at with tear-choked voices as the war-worn regiment marches past the worshiping
multitude with flags flying and the drums beating. After that he will be as
securely brave as any veteran in the army—and there will not be a shade nor
suggestion of personal merit in it anywhere; it will all have come from the
outside. The Victoria Cross breeds more heroes than—
Y.M. Hang it, where is the sense in his becoming brave if he is to get no credit
O.M. Your question will answer itself presently. It involves an important detail
of man's make which we have not yet touched upon.
Y.M. What detail is that?
O.M. The impulse which moves a person to do things—the only impulse that ever
moves a person to do a thing.
Y.M. The only one! Is there but one?
O.M. That is all. There is only one.
Y.M. Well, certainly that is a strange enough doctrine. What is the sole impulse
that ever moves a person to do a thing?
O.M. The impulse to content his own spirit—the necessity of contenting his own
spirit and winning its approval.
Y.M. Oh, come, that won't do!
O.M. Why won't it?
Y.M. Because it puts him in the attitude of always looking out for his own
comfort and advantage; whereas an unselfish man often does a thing solely for
another person's good when it is a positive disadvantage to himself.
O.M. It is a mistake. The act must do him good, first; otherwise he will not do
it. He may think he is doing it solely for the other person's sake, but it is
not so; he is contenting his own spirit first—the other's person's benefit has
to always take second place.
Y.M. What a fantastic idea! What becomes of self—sacrifice? Please answer me
O.M. What is self-sacrifice?
Y.M. The doing good to another person where no shadow nor suggestion of benefit
to one's self can result from it.
Man's Sole Impulse—the Securing of His Own Approval
Old Man. There have been instances of it—you think?
Young Man. Instances? Millions of them!
O.M. You have not jumped to conclusions? You have examined them—critically?
Y.M. They don't need it: the acts themselves reveal the golden impulse back of
O.M. For instance?
Y.M. Well, then, for instance. Take the case in the book here. The man lives
three miles up-town. It is bitter cold, snowing hard, midnight. He is about to
enter the horse-car when a gray and ragged old woman, a touching picture of
misery, puts out her lean hand and begs for rescue from hunger and death. The
man finds that he has a quarter in his pocket, but he does not hesitate: he
gives it her and trudges home through the storm. There—it is noble, it is
beautiful; its grace is marred by no fleck or blemish or suggestion of self-
O.M. What makes you think that?
Y.M. Pray what else could I think? Do you imagine that there is some other way
of looking at it?
O.M. Can you put yourself in the man's place and tell me what he felt and what
Y.M. Easily. The sight of that suffering old face pierced his generous heart
with a sharp pain. He could not bear it. He could endure the three-mile walk in
the storm, but he could not endure the tortures his conscience would suffer if
he turned his back and left that poor old creature to perish. He would not have
been able to sleep, for thinking of it.
O.M. What was his state of mind on his way home?
Y.M. It was a state of joy which only the self-sacrificer knows. His heart sang,
he was unconscious of the storm.
O.M. He felt well?
Y.M. One cannot doubt it.
O.M. Very well. Now let us add up the details and see how much he got for his
twenty-five cents. Let us try to find out the real why of his making the
investment. In the first place he couldn't bear the pain which the old suffering
face gave him. So he was thinking of his pain—this good man. He must buy a
salve for it. If he did not succor the old woman his conscience would torture
him all the way home. Thinking of his pain again. He must buy relief for that.
If he didn't relieve the old woman he would not get any sleep. He must buy some
sleep—still thinking of himself, you see. Thus, to sum up, he bought himself
free of a sharp pain in his heart, he bought himself free of the tortures of a
waiting conscience, he bought a whole night's sleep—all for twenty-five cents!
It should make Wall Street ashamed of itself. On his way home his heart was
joyful, and it sang—profit on top of profit! The impulse which moved the man
to succor the old woman was—first—to content his own spirit; secondly to
relieve her sufferings. Is it your opinion that men's acts proceed from one
central and unchanging and inalterable impulse, or from a variety of impulses?
Y.M. From a variety, of course—some high and fine and noble, others not. What
is your opinion?
O.M. Then there is but one law, one source.
Y.M. That both the noblest impulses and the basest proceed from that one source?
Y.M. Will you put that law into words?
O.M. Yes. This is the law, keep it in your mind. From his cradle to his grave a
man never does a single thing which has any FIRST AND FOREMOST object but
one—to secure peace of mind, spiritual comfort, for HIMSELF.
Y.M. Come! He never does anything for any one else's comfort, spiritual or
O.M. No. except on those distinct terms—that it shall first secure his own
spiritual comfort. Otherwise he will not do it.
Y.M. It will be easy to expose the falsity of that proposition.
O.M. For instance?
Y.M. Take that noble passion, love of country, patriotism. A man who loves peace
and dreads pain, leaves his pleasant home and his weeping family and marches out
to manfully expose himself to hunger, cold, wounds, and death. Is that seeking
O.M. He loves peace and dreads pain?
O.M. Then perhaps there is something that he loves more than he loves
peace—the approval of his neighbors and the public. And perhaps there is
something which he dreads more than he dreads pain—the disapproval of his
neighbors and the public. If he is sensitive to shame he will go to the
field—not because his spirit will be entirely comfortable there, but because
it will be more comfortable there than it would be if he remained at home. He
will always do the thing which will bring him the most mental comfort—for that
is the sole law of his life. He leaves the weeping family behind; he is sorry to
make them uncomfortable, but not sorry enough to sacrifice his own comfort to
Y.M. Do you really believe that mere public opinion could force a timid and
peaceful man to—
O.M. Go to war? Yes—public opinion can force some men to do anything.
Y.M. I don't believe that. Can it force a right-principled man to do a wrong
Y.M. Can it force a kind man to do a cruel thing?
Y.M. Give an instance.
O.M. Alexander Hamilton was a conspicuously high-principled man. He regarded
dueling as wrong, and as opposed to the teachings of religion—but in deference
to public opinion he fought a duel. He deeply loved his family, but to buy
public approval he treacherously deserted them and threw his life away,
ungenerously leaving them to lifelong sorrow in order that he might stand well
with a foolish world. In the then condition of the public standards of honor he
could not have been comfortable with the stigma upon him of having refused to
fight. The teachings of religion, his devotion to his family, his kindness of
heart, his high principles, all went for nothing when they stood in the way of
his spiritual comfort. A man will do anything, no matter what it is, to secure
his spiritual comfort; and he can neither be forced nor persuaded to any act
which has not that goal for its object. Hamilton's act was compelled by the
inborn necessity of contenting his own spirit; in this it was like all the other
acts of his life, and like all the acts of all men's lives. Do you see where the
kernel of the matter lies? A man cannot be comfortable without his own approval.
He will secure the largest share possible of that, at all costs, all sacrifices.
Y.M. A minute ago you said Hamilton fought that duel to get public approval.
O.M. I did. By refusing to fight the duel he would have secured his family's
approval and a large share of his own; but the public approval was more valuable
in his eyes than all other approvals put together—in the earth or above it; to
secure that would furnish him the most comfort of mind, the most
self—approval; so he sacrificed all other values to get it.
Y.M. Some noble souls have refused to fight duels, and have manfully braved the
O.M. They acted according to their make. They valued their principles and the
approval of their families above the public approval. They took the thing they
valued most and let the rest go. They took what would give them the largest
share of personal contentment and approval—a man always does. Public opinion
cannot force that kind of men to go to the wars. When they go it is for other
reasons. Other spirit-contenting reasons.
Y.M. Always spirit-contenting reasons?
O.M. There are no others.
Y.M. When a man sacrifices his life to save a little child from a burning
building, what do you call that?
O.M. When he does it, it is the law of his make. He can't bear to see the child
in that peril (a man of a different make could), and so he tries to save the
child, and loses his life. But he has got what he was after—his own approval.
Y.M. What do you call Love, Hate, Charity, Revenge, Humanity, Magnanimity,
O.M. Different results of the one Master Impulse: the necessity of securing
one's self approval. They wear diverse clothes and are subject to diverse moods,
but in whatsoever ways they masquerade they are the same person all the time. To
change the figure, the compulsion that moves a man—and there is but the
one—is the necessity of securing the contentment of his own spirit. When it
stops, the man is dead.
Y.M. That is foolishness. Love—
O.M. Why, love is that impulse, that law, in its most uncompromising form. It
will squander life and everything else on its object. Not primarily for the
object's sake, but for its own. When its object is happy it is happy—and that
is what it is unconsciously after.
Y.M. You do not even except the lofty and gracious passion of mother-love?
O.M. No, it is the absolute slave of that law. The mother will go naked to
clothe her child; she will starve that it may have food; suffer torture to save
it from pain; die that it may live. She takes a living pleasure in making these
sacrifices. She does it for that reward—that self-approval, that contentment,
that peace, that comfort. She would do it for your child IF SHE COULD GET THE
Y.M. This is an infernal philosophy of yours.
O.M. It isn't a philosophy, it is a fact.
Y.M. Of course you must admit that there are some acts which—
O.M. No. There is no act, large or small, fine or mean, which springs from any
motive but the one—the necessity of appeasing and contenting one's own spirit.
Y.M. The world's philanthropists—
O.M. I honor them, I uncover my head to them—from habit and training; and they
could not know comfort or happiness or self-approval if they did not work and
spend for the unfortunate. It makes them happy to see others happy; and so with
money and labor they buy what they are after—happiness, self-approval. Why
don't miners do the same thing? Because they can get a thousandfold more
happiness by not doing it. There is no other reason. They follow the law of
Y.M. What do you say of duty for duty's sake?
O.M. That it does not exist. Duties are not performed for duty's sake, but
because their neglect would make the man uncomfortable. A man performs but one
duty—the duty of contenting his spirit, the duty of making himself agreeable
to himself. If he can most satisfyingly perform this sole and only duty by
helping his neighbor, he will do it; if he can most satisfyingly perform it by
swindling his neighbor, he will do it. But he always looks out for Number
One—first; the effects upon others are a secondary matter. Men pretend to self-
sacrifices, but this is a thing which, in the ordinary value of the phrase, does
not exist and has not existed. A man often honestly thinks he is sacrificing
himself merely and solely for some one else, but he is deceived; his bottom
impulse is to content a requirement of his nature and training, and thus acquire
peace for his soul.
Y.M. Apparently, then, all men, both good and bad ones, devote their lives to
contenting their consciences.
O.M. Yes. That is a good enough name for it: Conscience—that independent
Sovereign, that insolent absolute Monarch inside of a man who is the man's
Master. There are all kinds of consciences, because there are all kinds of men.
You satisfy an assassin's conscience in one way, a philanthropist's in another,
a miser's in another, a burglar's in still another. As a guide or incentive to
any authoritatively prescribed line of morals or conduct (leaving training out
of the account), a man's conscience is totally valueless. I know a kind-hearted
Kentuckian whose self-approval was lacking—whose conscience was troubling him,
to phrase it with exactness—because he had neglected to kill a certain man—a
man whom he had never seen. The stranger had killed this man's friend in a
fight, this man's Kentucky training made it a duty to kill the stranger for it.
He neglected his duty—kept dodging it, shirking it, putting it off, and his
unrelenting conscience kept persecuting him for this conduct. At last, to get
ease of mind, comfort, self-approval, he hunted up the stranger and took his
life. It was an immense act of self-sacrifice (as per the usual definition), for
he did not want to do it, and he never would have done it if he could have
bought a contented spirit and an unworried mind at smaller cost. But we are so
made that we will pay anything for that contentment—even another man's life.
Y.M. You spoke a moment ago of trained consciences. You mean that we are not
born with consciences competent to guide us aright?
O.M. If we were, children and savages would know right from wrong, and not have
to be taught it.
Y.M. But consciences can be trained?
Y.M. Of course by parents, teachers, the pulpit, and books.
O.M. Yes—they do their share; they do what they can.
Y.M. And the rest is done by—
O.M. Oh, a million unnoticed influences—for good or bad: influences which work
without rest during every waking moment of a man's life, from cradle to grave.
Y.M. You have tabulated these?
O.M. Many of them—yes.
Y.M. Will you read me the result?
O.M. Another time, yes. It would take an hour.
Y.M. A conscience can be trained to shun evil and prefer good?
Y.M. But will it for spirit-contenting reasons only?
O.M. It can't be trained to do a thing for any other reason. The thing is
Y.M. There must be a genuinely and utterly self-sacrificing act recorded in
human history somewhere.
O.M. You are young. You have many years before you. Search one out.
Y.M. It does seem to me that when a man sees a fellow-being struggling in the
water and jumps in at the risk of his life to save him—
O.M. Wait. Describe the man. Describe the fellow-being. State if there is an
audience present; or if they are alone.
Y.M. What have these things to do with the splendid act?
O.M. Very much. Shall we suppose, as a beginning, that the two are alone, in a
solitary place, at midnight?
Y.M. If you choose.
O.M. And that the fellow-being is the man's daughter?
Y.M. Well, n-no—make it someone else.
O.M. A filthy, drunken ruffian, then?
Y.M. I see. Circumstances alter cases. I suppose that if there was no audience
to observe the act, the man wouldn't perform it.
O.M. But there is here and there a man who would. People, for instance, like the
man who lost his life trying to save the child from the fire; and the man who
gave the needy old woman his twenty-five cents and walked home in the
storm—there are here and there men like that who would do it. And why? Because
they couldn't bear to see a fellow-being struggling in the water and not jump in
and help. It would give them pain. They would save the fellow-being on that
account. They wouldn't do it otherwise. They strictly obey the law which I have
been insisting upon. You must remember and always distinguish the people who
can't bear things from people who can. It will throw light upon a number of
apparently "self-sacrificing" cases.
Y.M. Oh, dear, it's all so disgusting.
O.M. Yes. And so true.
Y.M. Come—take the good boy who does things he doesn't want to do, in order to
gratify his mother.
O.M. He does seven-tenths of the act because it gratifies him to gratify his
mother. Throw the bulk of advantage the other way and the good boy would not do
the act. He must obey the iron law. None can escape it.
Y.M. Well, take the case of a bad boy who—
O.M. You needn't mention it, it is a waste of time. It is no matter about the
bad boy's act. Whatever it was, he had a spirit-contenting reason for it.
Otherwise you have been misinformed, and he didn't do it.
Y.M. It is very exasperating. A while ago you said that man's conscience is not
a born judge of morals and conduct, but has to be taught and trained. Now I
think a conscience can get drowsy and lazy, but I don't think it can go wrong;
if you wake it up—
A Little Story
O.M. I will tell you a little story:
Once upon a time an Infidel was guest in the house of a Christian widow whose
little boy was ill and near to death. The Infidel often watched by the bedside
and entertained the boy with talk, and he used these opportunities to satisfy a
strong longing in his nature—that desire which is in us all to better other
people's condition by having them think as we think. He was successful. But the
dying boy, in his last moments, reproached him and said:
"I believed, and was happy in it; you have taken my belief away, and my comfort.
Now I have nothing left, and I die miserable; for the things which you have told
me do not take the place of that which I have lost."
And the mother, also, reproached the Infidel, and said:
"My child is forever lost, and my heart is broken. How could you do this cruel
thing? We have done you no harm, but only kindness; we made our house your home,
you were welcome to all we had, and this is our reward."
The heart of the Infidel was filled with remorse for what he had done, and he
"It was wrong—I see it now; but I was only trying to do him good. In my view
he was in error; it seemed my duty to teach him the truth."
Then the mother said:
"I had taught him, all his little life, what I believed to be the truth, and in
his believing faith both of us were happy. Now he is dead,—and lost; and I am
miserable. Our faith came down to us through centuries of believing ancestors;
what right had you, or any one, to disturb it? Where was your honor, where was
Y.M. He was a miscreant, and deserved death!
O.M. He thought so himself, and said so.
Y.M. Ah—you see, his conscience was awakened!
O.M. Yes, his Self-Disapproval was. It pained him to see the mother suffer. He
was sorry he had done a thing which brought him pain. It did not occur to him to
think of the mother when he was misteaching the boy, for he was absorbed in
providing pleasure for himself, then. Providing it by satisfying what he
believed to be a call of duty.
Y.M. Call it what you please, it is to me a case of awakened conscience. That
awakened conscience could never get itself into that species of trouble again. A
cure like that is a permanent cure.
O.M. Pardon—I had not finished the story. We are creatures of outside
influences—we originate nothing within. Whenever we take a new line of thought
and drift into a new line of belief and action, the impulse is always suggested
from the outside. Remorse so preyed upon the Infidel that it dissolved his
harshness toward the boy's religion and made him come to regard it with
tolerance, next with kindness, for the boy's sake and the mother's. Finally he
found himself examining it. From that moment his progress in his new trend was
steady and rapid. He became a believing Christian. And now his remorse for
having robbed the dying boy of his faith and his salvation was bitterer than
ever. It gave him no rest, no peace. He must have rest and peace—it is the law
of nature. There seemed but one way to get it; he must devote himself to saving
imperiled souls. He became a missionary. He landed in a pagan country ill and
helpless. A native widow took him into her humble home and nursed him back to
convalescence. Then her young boy was taken hopelessly ill, and the grateful
missionary helped her tend him. Here was his first opportunity to repair a part
of the wrong done to the other boy by doing a precious service for this one by
undermining his foolish faith in his false gods. He was successful. But the
dying boy in his last moments reproached him and said:
"I believed, and was happy in it; you have taken my belief away, and my comfort.
Now I have nothing left, and I die miserable; for the things which you have told
me do not take the place of that which I have lost."
And the mother, also, reproached the missionary, and said:
"My child is forever lost, and my heart is broken. How could you do this cruel
thing? We had done you no harm, but only kindness; we made our house your home,
you were welcome to all we had, and this is our reward."
The heart of the missionary was filled with remorse for what he had done, and he
"It was wrong—I see it now; but I was only trying to do him good. In my view
he was in error; it seemed my duty to teach him the truth."
Then the mother said:
"I had taught him, all his little life, what I believed to be the truth, and in
his believing faith both of us were happy. Now he is dead—and lost; and I am
miserable. Our faith came down to us through centuries of believing ancestors;
what right had you, or any one, to disturb it? Where was your honor, where was
The missionary's anguish of remorse and sense of treachery were as bitter and
persecuting and unappeasable, now, as they had been in the former case. The
story is finished. What is your comment?
Y.M. The man's conscience is a fool! It was morbid. It didn't know right from
O.M. I am not sorry to hear you say that. If you grant that one man's conscience
doesn't know right from wrong, it is an admission that there are others like it.
This single admission pulls down the whole doctrine of infallibility of judgment
in consciences. Meantime there is one thing which I ask you to notice.
Y.M. What is that?
O.M. That in both cases the man's act gave him no spiritual discomfort, and that
he was quite satisfied with it and got pleasure out of it. But afterward when it
resulted in pain to him, he was sorry. Sorry it had inflicted pain upon the
others, but for no reason under the sun except that their pain gave him pain.
Our consciences take no notice of pain inflicted upon others until it reaches a
point where it gives pain to us. In all cases without exception we are
absolutely indifferent to another person's pain until his sufferings make us
uncomfortable. Many an infidel would not have been troubled by that Christian
mother's distress. Don't you believe that?
Y.M. Yes. You might almost say it of the average infidel, I think.
O.M. And many a missionary, sternly fortified by his sense of duty, would not
have been troubled by the pagan mother's distress—Jesuit missionaries in
Canada in the early French times, for instance; see episodes quoted by Parkman.
Y.M. Well, let us adjourn. Where have we arrived?
O.M. At this. That we (mankind) have ticketed ourselves with a number of
qualities to which we have given misleading names. Love, Hate, Charity,
Compassion, Avarice, Benevolence, and so on. I mean we attach misleading
meanings to the names. They are all forms of self-contentment, self-
gratification, but the names so disguise them that they distract our attention
from the fact. Also we have smuggled a word into the dictionary which ought not
to be there at all—Self-Sacrifice. It describes a thing which does not exist.
But worst of all, we ignore and never mention the Sole Impulse which dictates
and compels a man's every act: the imperious necessity of securing his own
approval, in every emergency and at all costs. To it we owe all that we are. It
is our breath, our heart, our blood. It is our only spur, our whip, our goad,
our only impelling power; we have no other. Without it we should be mere inert
images, corpses; no one would do anything, there would be no progress, the world
would stand still. We ought to stand reverently uncovered when the name of that
stupendous power is uttered.
Y.M. I am not convinced.
O.M. You will be when you think.
Instances in Point
Old Man. Have you given thought to the Gospel of Self—Approval since we
Young Man. I have.
O.M. It was I that moved you to it. That is to say an outside influence moved
you to it—not one that originated in your head. Will you try to keep that in
mind and not forget it?
Y.M. Yes. Why?
O.M. Because by and by in one of our talks, I wish to further impress upon you
that neither you, nor I, nor any man ever originates a thought in his own head.
The utterer of a thought always utters a second-hand one.
Y.M. Oh, now—
O.M. Wait. Reserve your remark till we get to that part of our
discussion—tomorrow or next day, say. Now, then, have you been considering the
proposition that no act is ever born of any but a self-contenting
impulse—(primarily). You have sought. What have you found?
Y.M. I have not been very fortunate. I have examined many fine and apparently
self-sacrificing deeds in romances and biographies, but—
O.M. Under searching analysis the ostensible self-sacrifice disappeared? It
Y.M. But here in this novel is one which seems to promise. In the Adirondack
woods is a wage-earner and lay preacher in the lumber-camps who is of noble
character and deeply religious. An earnest and practical laborer in the New York
slums comes up there on vacation—he is leader of a section of the University
Settlement. Holme, the lumberman, is fired with a desire to throw away his
excellent worldly prospects and go down and save souls on the East Side. He
counts it happiness to make this sacrifice for the glory of God and for the
cause of Christ. He resigns his place, makes the sacrifice cheerfully, and goes
to the East Side and preaches Christ and Him crucified every day and every night
to little groups of half-civilized foreign paupers who scoff at him. But he
rejoices in the scoffings, since he is suffering them in the great cause of
Christ. You have so filled my mind with suspicions that I was constantly
expecting to find a hidden questionable impulse back of all this, but I am
thankful to say I have failed. This man saw his duty, and for duty's sake he
sacrificed self and assumed the burden it imposed.
O.M. Is that as far as you have read?
O.M. Let us read further, presently. Meantime, in sacrificing himself—not for
the glory of God, primarily, as he imagined, but first to content that exacting
and inflexible master within him—did he sacrifice anybody else?
Y.M. How do you mean?
O.M. He relinquished a lucrative post and got mere food and lodging in place of
it. Had he dependents?
O.M. In what way and to what extend did his self-sacrifice affect them?
Y.M. He was the support of a superannuated father. He had a young sister with a
remarkable voice—he was giving her a musical education, so that her longing to
be self-supporting might be gratified. He was furnishing the money to put a
young brother through a polytechnic school and satisfy his desire to become a
O.M. The old father's comforts were now curtailed?
Y.M. Quite seriously. Yes.
O.M. The sister's music-lessens had to stop?
O.M. The young brother's education—well, an extinguishing blight fell upon
that happy dream, and he had to go to sawing wood to support the old father, or
something like that?
Y.M. It is about what happened. Yes.
O.M. What a handsome job of self-sacrificing he did do! It seems to me that he
sacrificed everybody except himself. Haven't I told you that no man ever
sacrifices himself; that there is no instance of it upon record anywhere; and
that when a man's Interior Monarch requires a thing of its slave for either its
momentary or its permanent contentment, that thing must and will be furnished
and that command obeyed, no matter who may stand in the way and suffer disaster
by it? That man ruined his family to please and content his Interior Monarch—
Y.M. And help Christ's cause.
O.M. Yes—secondly. Not firstly. He thought it was firstly.
Y.M. Very well, have it so, if you will. But it could be that he argued that if
he saved a hundred souls in New York—
O.M. The sacrifice of the family would be justified by that great profit upon
the—the—what shall we call it?
O.M. Hardly. How would speculation do? How would gamble do? Not a solitary soul-
capture was sure. He played for a possible thirty-three-hundred-per-cent profit.
It was gambling—with his family for "chips." However let us see how the game
came out. Maybe we can get on the track of the secret original impulse, the real
impulse, that moved him to so nobly self—sacrifice his family in the Savior's
cause under the superstition that he was sacrificing himself. I will read a
chapter or so.... Here we have it! It was bound to expose itself sooner or
later. He preached to the East-Side rabble a season, then went back to his old
dull, obscure life in the lumber-camps "hurt to the heart, his pride humbled."
Why? Were not his efforts acceptable to the Savior, for Whom alone they were
made? Dear me, that detail is lost sight of, is not even referred to, the fact
that it started out as a motive is entirely forgotten! Then what is the trouble?
The authoress quite innocently and unconsciously gives the whole business away.
The trouble was this: this man merely preached to the poor; that is not the
University Settlement's way; it deals in larger and better things than that, and
it did not enthuse over that crude Salvation-Army eloquence. It was courteous to
Holme—but cool. It did not pet him, did not take him to its bosom. "Perished
were all his dreams of distinction, the praise and grateful approval—" Of
whom? The Savior? No; the Savior is not mentioned. Of whom, then? Of "his fellow-
workers." Why did he want that? Because the Master inside of him wanted it, and
would not be content without it. That emphasized sentence quoted above, reveals
the secret we have been seeking, the original impulse, the real impulse, which
moved the obscure and unappreciated Adirondack lumberman to sacrifice his family
and go on that crusade to the East Side—which said original impulse was this,
to wit: without knowing it he went there to show a neglected world the large
talent that was in him, and rise to distinction. As I have warned you before, no
act springs from any but the one law, the one motive. But I pray you, do not
accept this law upon my say-so; but diligently examine for yourself. Whenever
you read of a self-sacrificing act or hear of one, or of a duty done for duty's
sake, take it to pieces and look for the real motive. It is always there.
Y.M. I do it every day. I cannot help it, now that I have gotten started upon
the degrading and exasperating quest. For it is hatefully interesting!—in
fact, fascinating is the word. As soon as I come across a golden deed in a book
I have to stop and take it apart and examine it, I cannot help myself.
O.M. Have you ever found one that defeated the rule?
Y.M. No—at least, not yet. But take the case of servant—tipping in Europe.
You pay the hotel for service; you owe the servants nothing, yet you pay them
besides. Doesn't that defeat it?
O.M. In what way?
Y.M. You are not obliged to do it, therefore its source is compassion for their
ill-paid condition, and—
O.M. Has that custom ever vexed you, annoyed you, irritated you?
Y.M. Well, yes.
O.M. Still you succumbed to it?
Y.M. Of course.
O.M. Why of course?
Y.M. Well, custom is law, in a way, and laws must be submitted to—everybody
recognizes it as a duty.
O.M. Then you pay for the irritating tax for duty's sake?
Y.M. I suppose it amounts to that.
O.M. Then the impulse which moves you to submit to the tax is not all
compassion, charity, benevolence?
Y.M. Well—perhaps not.
O.M. Is any of it?
Y.M. I—perhaps I was too hasty in locating its source.
O.M. Perhaps so. In case you ignored the custom would you get prompt and
effective service from the servants?
Y.M. Oh, hear yourself talk! Those European servants? Why, you wouldn't get any
of all, to speak of.
O.M. Couldn't that work as an impulse to move you to pay the tax?
Y.M. I am not denying it.
O.M. Apparently, then, it is a case of for-duty's-sake with a little self-
Y.M. Yes, it has the look of it. But here is a point: we pay that tax knowing it
to be unjust and an extortion; yet we go away with a pain at the heart if we
think we have been stingy with the poor fellows; and we heartily wish we were
back again, so that we could do the right thing, and more than the right thing,
the generous thing. I think it will be difficult for you to find any thought of
self in that impulse.
O.M. I wonder why you should think so. When you find service charged in the
hotel bill does it annoy you?
O.M. Do you ever complain of the amount of it?
Y.M. No, it would not occur to me.
O.M. The expense, then, is not the annoying detail. It is a fixed charge, and
you pay it cheerfully, you pay it without a murmur. When you came to pay the
servants, how would you like it if each of the men and maids had a fixed charge?
Y.M. Like it? I should rejoice!
O.M. Even if the fixed tax were a shade more than you had been in the habit of
paying in the form of tips?
Y.M. Indeed, yes!
O.M. Very well, then. As I understand it, it isn't really compassion nor yet
duty that moves you to pay the tax, and it isn't the amount of the tax that
annoys you. Yet something annoys you. What is it?
Y.M. Well, the trouble is, you never know what to pay, the tax varies so, all
O.M. So you have to guess?
Y.M. There is no other way. So you go on thinking and thinking, and calculating
and guessing, and consulting with other people and getting their views; and it
spoils your sleep nights, and makes you distraught in the daytime, and while you
are pretending to look at the sights you are only guessing and guessing and
guessing all the time, and being worried and miserable.
O.M. And all about a debt which you don't owe and don't have to pay unless you
want to! Strange. What is the purpose of the guessing?
Y.M. To guess out what is right to give them, and not be unfair to any of them.
O.M. It has quite a noble look—taking so much pains and using up so much
valuable time in order to be just and fair to a poor servant to whom you owe
nothing, but who needs money and is ill paid.
Y.M. I think, myself, that if there is any ungracious motive back of it it will
be hard to find.
O.M. How do you know when you have not paid a servant fairly?
Y.M. Why, he is silent; does not thank you. Sometimes he gives you a look that
makes you ashamed. You are too proud to rectify your mistake there, with people
looking, but afterward you keep on wishing and wishing you had done it. My, the
shame and the pain of it! Sometimes you see, by the signs, that you have it just
right, and you go away mightily satisfied. Sometimes the man is so effusively
thankful that you know you have given him a good deal more than was necessary.
O.M. Necessary? Necessary for what?
Y.M. To content him.
O.M. How do you feel then?
O.M. It is my belief that you have not been concerning yourself in guessing out
his just dues, but only in ciphering out what would content him. And I think you
have a self-deluding reason for that.
Y.M. What was it?
O.M. If you fell short of what he was expecting and wanting, you would get a
look which would shame you before folk. That would give you pain. You—for you
are only working for yourself, not him. If you gave him too much you would be
ashamed of yourself for it, and that would give you pain—another case of
thinking of yourself, protecting yourself, saving yourself from discomfort. You
never think of the servant once—except to guess out how to get his approval.
If you get that, you get your own approval, and that is the sole and only thing
you are after. The Master inside of you is then satisfied, contented,
comfortable; there was no other thing at stake, as a matter of first interest,
anywhere in the transaction.
Y.M. Well, to think of it; Self-Sacrifice for others, the grandest thing in man,
ruled out! non-existent!
O.M. Are you accusing me of saying that?
Y.M. Why, certainly.
O.M. I haven't said it.
Y.M. What did you say, then?
O.M. That no man has ever sacrificed himself in the common meaning of that
phrase—which is, self-sacrifice for another alone. Men make daily sacrifices
for others, but it is for their own sake first. The act must content their own
spirit first. The other beneficiaries come second.
Y.M. And the same with duty for duty's sake?
O.M. Yes. No man performs a duty for mere duty's sake; the act must content his
spirit first. He must feel better for doing the duty than he would for shirking
it. Otherwise he will not do it.
Y.M. Take the case of the Berkeley Castle.
O.M. It was a noble duty, greatly performed. Take it to pieces and examine it,
if you like.
Y.M. A British troop-ship crowded with soldiers and their wives and children.
She struck a rock and began to sink. There was room in the boats for the women
and children only. The colonel lined up his regiment on the deck and said "it is
our duty to die, that they may be saved." There was no murmur, no protest. The
boats carried away the women and children. When the death-moment was come, the
colonel and his officers took their several posts, the men stood at shoulder-
arms, and so, as on dress-parade, with their flag flying and the drums beating,
they went down, a sacrifice to duty for duty's sake. Can you view it as other
O.M. It was something as fine as that, as exalted as that. Could you have
remained in those ranks and gone down to your death in that unflinching way?
Y.M. Could I? No, I could not.
O.M. Think. Imagine yourself there, with that watery doom creeping higher and
higher around you.
Y.M. I can imagine it. I feel all the horror of it. I could not have endured it,
I could not have remained in my place. I know it.
Y.M. There is no why about it: I know myself, and I know I couldn't do it.
O.M. But it would be your duty to do it.
Y.M. Yes, I know—but I couldn't.
O.M. It was more than thousand men, yet not one of them flinched. Some of them
must have been born with your temperament; if they could do that great duty for
duty's sake, why not you? Don't you know that you could go out and gather
together a thousand clerks and mechanics and put them on that deck and ask them
to die for duty's sake, and not two dozen of them would stay in the ranks to the
Y.M. Yes, I know that.
O.M. But you train them, and put them through a campaign or two; then they would
be soldiers; soldiers, with a soldier's pride, a soldier's self-respect, a
soldier's ideals. They would have to content a soldier's spirit then, not a
clerk's, not a mechanic's. They could not content that spirit by shirking a
soldier's duty, could they?
Y.M. I suppose not.
O.M. Then they would do the duty not for the duty's sake, but for their own
sake—primarily. The duty was just the same, and just as imperative, when they
were clerks, mechanics, raw recruits, but they wouldn't perform it for that. As
clerks and mechanics they had other ideals, another spirit to satisfy, and they
satisfied it. They had to; it is the law. Training is potent. Training toward
higher and higher, and ever higher ideals is worth any man's thought and labor
Y.M. Consider the man who stands by his duty and goes to the stake rather than
be recreant to it.
O.M. It is his make and his training. He has to content the spirit that is in
him, though it cost him his life. Another man, just as sincerely religious, but
of different temperament, will fail of that duty, though recognizing it as a
duty, and grieving to be unequal to it: but he must content the spirit that is
in him—he cannot help it. He could not perform that duty for duty's sake, for
that would not content his spirit, and the contenting of his spirit must be
looked to first. It takes precedence of all other duties.
Y.M. Take the case of a clergyman of stainless private morals who votes for a
thief for public office, on his own party's ticket, and against an honest man on
the other ticket.
O.M. He has to content his spirit. He has no public morals; he has no private
ones, where his party's prosperity is at stake. He will always be true to his
make and training.
Young Man. You keep using that word—training. By it do you particularly
Old Man. Study, instruction, lectures, sermons? That is a part of it—but not a
large part. I mean all the outside influences. There are a million of them. From
the cradle to the grave, during all his waking hours, the human being is under
training. In the very first rank of his trainers stands association. It is his
human environment which influences his mind and his feelings, furnishes him his
ideals, and sets him on his road and keeps him in it. If he leave[s] that road
he will find himself shunned by the people whom he most loves and esteems, and
whose approval he most values. He is a chameleon; by the law of his nature he
takes the color of his place of resort. The influences about him create his
preferences, his aversions, his politics, his tastes, his morals, his religion.
He creates none of these things for himself. He thinks he does, but that is
because he has not examined into the matter. You have seen Presbyterians?
O.M. How did they happen to be Presbyterians and not Congregationalists? And why
were the Congregationalists not Baptists, and the Baptists Roman Catholics, and
the Roman Catholics Buddhists, and the Buddhists Quakers, and the Quakers
Episcopalians, and the Episcopalians Millerites and the Millerites Hindus, and
the Hindus Atheists, and the Atheists Spiritualists, and the Spiritualists
Agnostics, and the Agnostics Methodists, and the Methodists Confucians, and the
Confucians Unitarians, and the Unitarians Mohammedans, and the Mohammedans
Salvation Warriors, and the Salvation Warriors Zoroastrians, and the
Zoroastrians Christian Scientists, and the Christian Scientists Mormons—and so
Y.M. You may answer your question yourself.
O.M. That list of sects is not a record of studies, searchings, seekings after
light; it mainly (and sarcastically) indicates what association can do. If you
know a man's nationality you can come within a split hair of guessing the
complexion of his religion: English—Protestant; American—ditto; Spaniard,
Frenchman, Irishman, Italian, South American—Roman Catholic; Russian—Greek
Catholic; Turk—Mohammedan; and so on. And when you know the man's religious
complexion, you know what sort of religious books he reads when he wants some
more light, and what sort of books he avoids, lest by accident he get more light
than he wants. In America if you know which party-collar a voter wears, you know
what his associations are, and how he came by his politics, and which breed of
newspaper he reads to get light, and which breed he diligently avoids, and which
breed of mass-meetings he attends in order to broaden his political knowledge,
and which breed of mass-meetings he doesn't attend, except to refute its
doctrines with brickbats. We are always hearing of people who are around seeking
after truth. I have never seen a (permanent) specimen. I think he had never
lived. But I have seen several entirely sincere people who thought they were
(permanent) Seekers after Truth. They sought diligently, persistently,
carefully, cautiously, profoundly, with perfect honesty and nicely adjusted
judgment—until they believed that without doubt or question they had found the
Truth. That was the end of the search. The man spent the rest of his life
hunting up shingles wherewith to protect his Truth from the weather. If he was
seeking after political Truth he found it in one or another of the hundred
political gospels which govern men in the earth; if he was seeking after the
Only True Religion he found it in one or another of the three thousand that are
on the market. In any case, when he found the Truth he sought no further; but
from that day forth, with his soldering-iron in one hand and his bludgeon in the
other he tinkered its leaks and reasoned with objectors. There have been
innumerable Temporary Seekers of Truth—have you ever heard of a permanent one?
In the very nature of man such a person is impossible. However, to drop back to
the text—training: all training is one form or another of outside influence,
and association is the largest part of it. A man is never anything but what his
outside influences have made him. They train him downward or they train him
upward—but they train him; they are at work upon him all the time.
Y.M. Then if he happen by the accidents of life to be evilly placed there is no
help for him, according to your notions—he must train downward.
O.M. No help for him? No help for this chameleon? It is a mistake. It is in his
chameleonship that his greatest good fortune lies. He has only to change his
habitat—his associations. But the impulse to do it must come from the outside
—he cannot originate it himself, with that purpose in view. Sometimes a very
small and accidental thing can furnish him the initiatory impulse and start him
on a new road, with a new idea. The chance remark of a sweetheart, "I hear that
you are a coward," may water a seed that shall sprout and bloom and flourish,
and ended in producing a surprising fruitage—in the fields of war. The history
of man is full of such accidents. The accident of a broken leg brought a profane
and ribald soldier under religious influences and furnished him a new ideal.
From that accident sprang the Order of the Jesuits, and it has been shaking
thrones, changing policies, and doing other tremendous work for two hundred
years—and will go on. The chance reading of a book or of a paragraph in a
newspaper can start a man on a new track and make him renounce his old
associations and seek new ones that are in sympathy with his new ideal: and the
result, for that man, can be an entire change of his way of life.
Y.M. Are you hinting at a scheme of procedure?
O.M. Not a new one—an old one. Old as mankind.
Y.M. What is it?
O.M. Merely the laying of traps for people. Traps baited with initiatory
impulses toward high ideals. It is what the tract-distributor does. It is what
the missionary does. It is what governments ought to do.
Y.M. Don't they?
O.M. In one way they do, in another they don't. They separate the smallpox
patients from the healthy people, but in dealing with crime they put the healthy
into the pest-house along with the sick. That is to say, they put the beginners
in with the confirmed criminals. This would be well if man were naturally
inclined to good, but he isn't, and so association makes the beginners worse
than they were when they went into captivity. It is putting a very severe
punishment upon the comparatively innocent at times. They hang a man—which is
a trifling punishment; this breaks the hearts of his family—which is a heavy
one. They comfortably jail and feed a wife-beater, and leave his innocent wife
and family to starve.
Y.M. Do you believe in the doctrine that man is equipped with an intuitive
perception of good and evil?
O.M. Adam hadn't it.
Y.M. But has man acquired it since?
O.M. No. I think he has no intuitions of any kind. He gets all his ideas, all
his impressions, from the outside. I keep repeating this, in the hope that I may
impress it upon you that you will be interested to observe and examine for
yourself and see whether it is true or false.
Y.M. Where did you get your own aggravating notions?
O.M. From the outside. I did not invent them. They are gathered from a thousand
unknown sources. Mainly unconsciously gathered.
Y.M. Don't you believe that God could make an inherently honest man?
O.M. Yes, I know He could. I also know that He never did make one.
Y.M. A wiser observer than you has recorded the fact that "an honest man's the
noblest work of God."
O.M. He didn't record a fact, he recorded a falsity. It is windy, and sounds
well, but it is not true. God makes a man with honest and dishonest
possibilities in him and stops there. The man's associations develop the
possibilities—the one set or the other. The result is accordingly an honest
man or a dishonest one.
Y.M. And the honest one is not entitled to—
O.M. Praise? No. How often must I tell you that? He is not the architect of his
Y.M. Now then, I will ask you where there is any sense in training people to
lead virtuous lives. What is gained by it?
O.M. The man himself gets large advantages out of it, and that is the main
thing—to him. He is not a peril to his neighbors, he is not a damage to
them—and so they get an advantage out of his virtues. That is the main thing
to them. It can make this life comparatively comfortable to the parties
concerned; the neglect of this training can make this life a constant peril and
distress to the parties concerned.
Y.M. You have said that training is everything; that training is the man
himself, for it makes him what he is.
O.M. I said training and another thing. Let that other thing pass, for the
moment. What were you going to say?
Y.M. We have an old servant. She has been with us twenty—two years. Her
service used to be faultless, but now she has become very forgetful. We are all
fond of her; we all recognize that she cannot help the infirmity which age has
brought her; the rest of the family do not scold her for her remissnesses, but
at times I do—I can't seem to control myself. Don't I try? I do try. Now,
then, when I was ready to dress, this morning, no clean clothes had been put
out. I lost my temper; I lose it easiest and quickest in the early morning. I
rang; and immediately began to warn myself not to show temper, and to be careful
and speak gently. I safe-guarded myself most carefully. I even chose the very
word I would use: "You've forgotten the clean clothes, Jane." When she appeared
in the door I opened my mouth to say that phrase—and out of it, moved by an
instant surge of passion which I was not expecting and hadn't time to put under
control, came the hot rebuke, "You've forgotten them again!" You say a man
always does the thing which will best please his Interior Master. Whence came
the impulse to make careful preparation to save the girl the humiliation of a
rebuke? Did that come from the Master, who is always primarily concerned about
O.M. Unquestionably. There is no other source for any impulse. Secondarily you
made preparation to save the girl, but primarily its object was to save
yourself, by contenting the Master.
Y.M. How do you mean?
O.M. Has any member of the family ever implored you to watch your temper and not
fly out at the girl?
Y.M. Yes. My mother.
O.M. You love her?
Y.M. Oh, more than that!
O.M. You would always do anything in your power to please her?
Y.M. It is a delight to me to do anything to please her!
O.M. Why? You would do it for pay, solely —for profit. What profit would you
expect and certainly receive from the investment?
Y.M. Personally? None. To please her is enough.
O.M. It appears, then, that your object, primarily, wasn't to save the girl a
humiliation, but to please your mother. It also appears that to please your
mother gives you a strong pleasure. Is not that the profit which you get out of
the investment? Isn't that the real profits and first profit?
Y.M. Oh, well? Go on.
O.M. In all transactions, the Interior Master looks to it that you get the first
profit. Otherwise there is no transaction.
Y.M. Well, then, if I was so anxious to get that profit and so intent upon it,
why did I throw it away by losing my temper?
O.M. In order to get another profit which suddenly superseded it in value.
Y.M. Where was it?
O.M. Ambushed behind your born temperament, and waiting for a chance. Your
native warm temper suddenly jumped to the front, and for the moment its
influence was more powerful than your mother's, and abolished it. In that
instance you were eager to flash out a hot rebuke and enjoy it. You did enjoy
it, didn't you?
Y.M. For—for a quarter of a second. Yes—I did.
O.M. Very well, it is as I have said: the thing which will give you the most
pleasure, the most satisfaction, in any moment or fraction of a moment, is the
thing you will always do. You must content the Master's latest whim, whatever it
Y.M. But when the tears came into the old servant's eyes I could have cut my
hand off for what I had done.
O.M. Right. You had humiliated yourself, you see, you had given yourself pain.
Nothing is of first importance to a man except results which damage him or
profit him—all the rest is secondary. Your Master was displeased with you,
although you had obeyed him. He required a prompt repentance; you obeyed again;
you had to—there is never any escape from his commands. He is a hard master
and fickle; he changes his mind in the fraction of a second, but you must be
ready to obey, and you will obey, always. If he requires repentance, you content
him, you will always furnish it. He must be nursed, petted, coddled, and kept
contented, let the terms be what they may.
Y.M. Training! Oh, what's the use of it? Didn't I, and didn't my mother try to
train me up to where I would no longer fly out at that girl?
O.M. Have you never managed to keep back a scolding?
Y.M. Oh, certainly—many times.
O.M. More times this year than last?
Y.M. Yes, a good many more.
O.M. More times last year than the year before?
O.M. There is a large improvement, then, in the two years?
Y.M. Yes, undoubtedly.
O.M. Then your question is answered. You see there is use in training. Keep on.
Keeping faithfully on. You are doing well.
Y.M. Will my reform reach perfection?
O.M. It will. Up to your limit.
Y.M. My limit? What do you mean by that?
O.M. You remember that you said that I said training was everything. I corrected
you, and said "training and another thing." That other thing is temperament
—that is, the disposition you were born with. You can't eradicate your
disposition nor any rag of it —you can only put a pressure on it and keep it
down and quiet. You have a warm temper?
O.M. You will never get rid of it; but by watching it you can keep it down
nearly all the time. Its presence is your limit. Your reform will never quite
reach perfection, for your temper will beat you now and then, but you come near
enough. You have made valuable progress and can make more. There is use in
training. Immense use. Presently you will reach a new stage of development, then
your progress will be easier; will proceed on a simpler basis, anyway.
O.M. You keep back your scoldings now, to please yourself by pleasing your
mother; presently the mere triumphing over your temper will delight your vanity
and confer a more delicious pleasure and satisfaction upon you than even the
approbation of your mother confers upon you now. You will then labor for
yourself directly and at first hand, not by the roundabout way through your
mother. It simplifies the matter, and it also strengthens the impulse.
Y.M. Ah, dear! But I sha'n't ever reach the point where I will spare the girl
for her sake primarily, not mine?
O.M. Why—yes. In heaven.
Y.M. (After a reflective pause) Temperament. Well, I see one must allow for
temperament. It is a large factor, sure enough. My mother is thoughtful, and not
hot-tempered. When I was dressed I went to her room; she was not there; I
called, she answered from the bathroom. I heard the water running. I inquired.
She answered, without temper, that Jane had forgotten her bath, and she was
preparing it herself. I offered to ring, but she said, "No, don't do that; it
would only distress her to be confronted with her lapse, and would be a rebuke;
she doesn't deserve that—she is not to blame for the tricks her memory serves
her." I say—has my mother an Interior Master?—and where was he?
O.M. He was there. There, and looking out for his own peace and pleasure and
contentment. The girl's distress would have pained your mother. Otherwise the
girl would have been rung up, distress and all. I know women who would have
gotten a No. 1 pleasure out of ringing Jane up—and so they would infallibly
have pushed the button and obeyed the law of their make and training, which are
the servants of their Interior Masters. It is quite likely that a part of your
mother's forbearance came from training. The good kind of training—whose best
and highest function is to see to it that every time it confers a satisfaction
upon its pupil a benefit shall fall at second hand upon others.
Y.M. If you were going to condense into an admonition your plan for the general
betterment of the race's condition, how would you word it?
O.M. Diligently train your ideals upward and still upward toward a summit where
you will find your chiefest pleasure in conduct which, while contenting you,
will be sure to confer benefits upon your neighbor and the community.
Y.M. Is that a new gospel?
Y.M. It has been taught before?
O.M. For ten thousand years.
Y.M. By whom?
O.M. All the great religions—all the great gospels.
Y.M. Then there is nothing new about it?
O.M. Oh yes, there is. It is candidly stated, this time. That has not been done
Y.M. How do you mean?
O.M. Haven't I put you first, and your neighbor and the community afterward?
Y.M. Well, yes, that is a difference, it is true.
O.M. The difference between straight speaking and crooked; the difference
between frankness and shuffling.
O.M. The others offer you a hundred bribes to be good, thus conceding that the
Master inside of you must be conciliated and contented first, and that you will
do nothing at first hand but for his sake; then they turn square around and
require you to do good for other's sake chiefly; and to do your duty for duty's
sake, chiefly; and to do acts of self-sacrifice. Thus at the outset we all stand
upon the same ground—recognition of the supreme and absolute Monarch that
resides in man, and we all grovel before him and appeal to him; then those
others dodge and shuffle, and face around and unfrankly and inconsistently and
illogically change the form of their appeal and direct its persuasions to man's
second-place powers and to powers which have no existence in him, thus advancing
them to first place; whereas in my Admonition I stick logically and consistently
to the original position: I place the Interior Master's requirements first, and
keep them there.
Y.M. If we grant, for the sake of argument, that your scheme and the other
schemes aim at and produce the same result—right living—has yours an
advantage over the others?
O.M. One, yes—a large one. It has no concealments, no deceptions. When a man
leads a right and valuable life under it he is not deceived as to the real chief
motive which impels him to it—in those other cases he is.
Y.M. Is that an advantage? Is it an advantage to live a lofty life for a mean
reason? In the other cases he lives the lofty life under the impression that he
is living for a lofty reason. Is not that an advantage?
O.M. Perhaps so. The same advantage he might get out of thinking himself a duke,
and living a duke's life and parading in ducal fuss and feathers, when he wasn't
a duke at all, and could find it out if he would only examine the herald's
Y.M. But anyway, he is obliged to do a duke's part; he puts his hand in his
pocket and does his benevolences on as big a scale as he can stand, and that
benefits the community.
O.M. He could do that without being a duke.
Y.M. But would he?
O.M. Don't you see where you are arriving?
O.M. At the standpoint of the other schemes: That it is good morals to let an
ignorant duke do showy benevolences for his pride's sake, a pretty low motive,
and go on doing them unwarned, lest if he were made acquainted with the actual
motive which prompted them he might shut up his purse and cease to be good?
Y.M. But isn't it best to leave him in ignorance, as long as he thinks he is
doing good for others' sake?
O.M. Perhaps so. It is the position of the other schemes. They think humbug is
good enough morals when the dividend on it is good deeds and handsome conduct.
Y.M. It is my opinion that under your scheme of a man's doing a good deed for
his own sake first-off, instead of first for the good deed's sake, no man would
ever do one.
O.M. Have you committed a benevolence lately?
Y.M. Yes. This morning.
O.M. Give the particulars.
Y.M. The cabin of the old negro woman who used to nurse me when I was a child
and who saved my life once at the risk of her own, was burned last night, and
she came mourning this morning, and pleading for money to build another one.
O.M. You furnished it?
O.M. You were glad you had the money?
Y.M. Money? I hadn't. I sold my horse.
O.M. You were glad you had the horse?
Y.M. Of course I was; for if I hadn't had the horse I should have been
incapable, and my mother would have captured the chance to set old Sally up.
O.M. You were cordially glad you were not caught out and incapable?
Y.M. Oh, I just was!
O.M. Now, then—
Y.M. Stop where you are! I know your whole catalog of questions, and I could
answer every one of them without your wasting the time to ask them; but I will
summarize the whole thing in a single remark: I did the charity knowing it was
because the act would give me a splendid pleasure, and because old Sally's
moving gratitude and delight would give me another one; and because the
reflection that she would be happy now and out of her trouble would fill me full
of happiness. I did the whole thing with my eyes open and recognizing and
realizing that I was looking out for my share of the profits first. Now then, I
have confessed. Go on.
O.M. I haven't anything to offer; you have covered the whole ground. Can you
have been any more strongly moved to help Sally out of her trouble—could you
have done the deed any more eagerly—if you had been under the delusion that
you were doing it for her sake and profit only?
Y.M. No! Nothing in the world could have made the impulse which moved me more
powerful, more masterful, more thoroughly irresistible. I played the limit!
O.M. Very well. You begin to suspect—and I claim to know —that when a man is
a shade more strongly moved to do one of two things or of two dozen things than
he is to do any one of the others, he will infallibly do that one thing, be it
good or be it evil; and if it be good, not all the beguilements of all the
casuistries can increase the strength of the impulse by a single shade or add a
shade to the comfort and contentment he will get out of the act.
Y.M. Then you believe that such tendency toward doing good as is in men's hearts
would not be diminished by the removal of the delusion that good deeds are done
primarily for the sake of No. 2 instead of for the sake of No. 1?
O.M. That is what I fully believe.
Y.M. Doesn't it somehow seem to take from the dignity of the deed?
O.M. If there is dignity in falsity, it does. It removes that.
Y.M. What is left for the moralists to do?
O.M. Teach unreservedly what he already teaches with one side of his mouth and
takes back with the other: Do right for your own sake, and be happy in knowing
that your neighbor will certainly share in the benefits resulting.
Y.M. Repeat your Admonition.
O.M. Diligently train your ideals upward and still upward toward a summit where
you will find your chiefest pleasure in conduct which, while contenting you,
will be sure to confer benefits upon your neighbor and the community.
Y.M. One's every act proceeds from exterior influences, you think?
Y.M. If I conclude to rob a person, I am not the originator of the idea, but it
comes in from the outside? I see him handling money—for instance—and that
moves me to the crime?
O.M. That, by itself? Oh, certainly not. It is merely the latest outside
influence of a procession of preparatory influences stretching back over a
period of years. No single outside influence can make a man do a thing which is
at war with his training. The most it can do is to start his mind on a new tract
and open it to the reception of new influences—as in the case of Ignatius
Loyola. In time these influences can train him to a point where it will be
consonant with his new character to yield to the final influence and do that
thing. I will put the case in a form which will make my theory clear to you, I
think. Here are two ingots of virgin gold. They shall represent a couple of
characters which have been refined and perfected in the virtues by years of
diligent right training. Suppose you wanted to break down these strong and well-
compacted characters—what influence would you bring to bear upon the ingots?
Y.M. Work it out yourself. Proceed.
O.M. Suppose I turn upon one of them a steam-jet during a long succession of
hours. Will there be a result?
Y.M. None that I know of.
Y.M. A steam-jet cannot break down such a substance.
O.M. Very well. The steam is an outside influence, but it is ineffective because
the gold takes no interest in it. The ingot remains as it was. Suppose we add to
the steam some quicksilver in a vaporized condition, and turn the jet upon the
ingot, will there be an instantaneous result?
O.M. The quicksilver is an outside influence which gold (by its peculiar
nature—say temperament, disposition) cannot be indifferent to. It stirs up the
interest of the gold, although we do not perceive it; but a single application
of the influence works no damage. Let us continue the application in a steady
stream, and call each minute a year. By the end of ten or twenty minutes—ten
or twenty years—the little ingot is sodden with quicksilver, its virtues are
gone, its character is degraded. At last it is ready to yield to a temptation
which it would have taken no notice of, ten or twenty years ago. We will apply
that temptation in the form of a pressure of my finger. You note the result?
Y.M. Yes; the ingot has crumbled to sand. I understand, now. It is not the
single outside influence that does the work, but only the last one of a long and
disintegrating accumulation of them. I see, now, how my single impulse to rob
the man is not the one that makes me do it, but only the last one of a
preparatory series. You might illustrate with a parable.
O.M. I will. There was once a pair of New England boys—twins. They were alike
in good dispositions, feckless morals, and personal appearance. They were the
models of the Sunday—school. At fifteen George had the opportunity to go as
cabin-boy in a whale-ship, and sailed away for the Pacific. Henry remained at
home in the village. At eighteen George was a sailor before the mast, and Henry
was teacher of the advanced Bible class. At twenty-two George, through fighting-
habits and drinking-habits acquired at sea and in the sailor boarding-houses of
the European and Oriental ports, was a common rough in Hong-Kong, and out of a
job; and Henry was superintendent of the Sunday-school. At twenty-six George was
a wanderer, a tramp, and Henry was pastor of the village church. Then George
came home, and was Henry's guest. One evening a man passed by and turned down
the lane, and Henry said, with a pathetic smile, "Without intending me a
discomfort, that man is always keeping me reminded of my pinching poverty, for
he carries heaps of money about him, and goes by here every evening of his
life." That outside influence —that remark—was enough for George, but it was
not the one that made him ambush the man and rob him, it merely represented the
eleven years' accumulation of such influences, and gave birth to the act for
which their long gestation had made preparation. It had never entered the head
of Henry to rob the man—his ingot had been subjected to clean steam only; but
George's had been subjected to vaporized quicksilver.
More About the Machine
Note.—When Mrs. W. asks how can a millionaire give a single dollar to colleges
and museums while one human being is destitute of bread, she has answered her
question herself. Her feeling for the poor shows that she has a standard of
benevolence; there she has conceded the millionaire's privilege of having a
standard; since she evidently requires him to adopt her standard, she is by that
act requiring herself to adopt his. The human being always looks down when he is
examining another person's standard; he never find one that he has to examine by
The Man-Machine Again
Young Man. You really think man is a mere machine?
Old Man. I do.
Y.M. And that his mind works automatically and is independent of his
control—carries on thought on its own hook?
O.M. Yes. It is diligently at work, unceasingly at work, during every waking
moment. Have you never tossed about all night, imploring, beseeching, commanding
your mind to stop work and let you go to sleep?—you who perhaps imagine that
your mind is your servant and must obey your orders, think what you tell it to
think, and stop when you tell it to stop. When it chooses to work, there is no
way to keep it still for an instant. The brightest man would not be able to
supply it with subjects if he had to hunt them up. If it needed the man's help
it would wait for him to give it work when he wakes in the morning.
Y.M. Maybe it does.
O.M. No, it begins right away, before the man gets wide enough awake to give it
a suggestion. He may go to sleep saying, "The moment I wake I will think upon
such and such a subject," but he will fail. His mind will be too quick for him;
by the time he has become nearly enough awake to be half conscious, he will find
that it is already at work upon another subject. Make the experiment and see.
Y.M. At any rate, he can make it stick to a subject if he wants to.
O.M. Not if it find another that suits it better. As a rule it will listen to
neither a dull speaker nor a bright one. It refuses all persuasion. The dull
speaker wearies it and sends it far away in idle dreams; the bright speaker
throws out stimulating ideas which it goes chasing after and is at once
unconscious of him and his talk. You cannot keep your mind from wandering, if it
wants to; it is master, not you.
After an Interval of Days
O.M. Now, dreams—but we will examine that later. Meantime, did you try
commanding your mind to wait for orders from you, and not do any thinking on its
Y.M. Yes, I commanded it to stand ready to take orders when I should wake in the
O.M. Did it obey?
Y.M. No. It went to thinking of something of its own initiation, without waiting
for me. Also—as you suggested—at night I appointed a theme for it to begin
on in the morning, and commanded it to begin on that one and no other.
O.M. Did it obey?
O.M. How many times did you try the experiment?
O.M. How many successes did you score?
Y.M. Not one.
O.M. It is as I have said: the mind is independent of the man. He has no control
over it; it does as it pleases. It will take up a subject in spite of him; it
will stick to it in spite of him; it will throw it aside in spite of him. It is
entirely independent of him.
Y.M. Go on. Illustrate.
O.M. Do you know chess?
Y.M. I learned it a week ago.
O.M. Did your mind go on playing the game all night that first night?
Y.M. Don't mention it!
O.M. It was eagerly, unsatisfiably interested; it rioted in the combinations;
you implored it to drop the game and let you get some sleep?
Y.M. Yes. It wouldn't listen; it played right along. It wore me out and I got up
haggard and wretched in the morning.
O.M. At some time or other you have been captivated by a ridiculous rhyme-
Y.M. Indeed, yes!
"I saw Esau kissing Kate,
And she saw I saw Esau;
I saw Esau, he saw Kate,
And she saw—"
And so on. My mind went mad with joy over it. It repeated it all day and all
night for a week in spite of all I could do to stop it, and it seemed to me that
I must surely go crazy.
O.M. And the new popular song?
Y.M. Oh yes! "In the Swee-eet By and By"; etc. Yes, the new popular song with
the taking melody sings through one's head day and night, asleep and awake, till
one is a wreck. There is no getting the mind to let it alone.
O.M. Yes, asleep as well as awake. The mind is quite independent. It is master.
You have nothing to do with it. It is so apart from you that it can conduct its
affairs, sing its songs, play its chess, weave its complex and ingeniously
constructed dreams, while you sleep. It has no use for your help, no use for
your guidance, and never uses either, whether you be asleep or awake. You have
imagined that you could originate a thought in your mind, and you have sincerely
believed you could do it.
Y.M. Yes, I have had that idea.
O.M. Yet you can't originate a dream-thought for it to work out, and get it
O.M. And you can't dictate its procedure after it has originated a dream-thought
Y.M. No. No one can do it. Do you think the waking mind and the dream mind are
the same machine?
O.M. There is argument for it. We have wild and fantastic day-thoughts? Things
that are dream-like?
Y.M. Yes—like Mr. Wells's man who invented a drug that made him invisible; and
like the Arabian tales of the Thousand Nights.
O.M. And there are dreams that are rational, simple, consistent, and
Y.M. Yes. I have dreams that are like that. Dreams that are just like real life;
dreams in which there are several persons with distinctly differentiated
characters—inventions of my mind and yet strangers to me: a vulgar person; a
refined one; a wise person; a fool; a cruel person; a kind and compassionate
one; a quarrelsome person; a peacemaker; old persons and young; beautiful girls
and homely ones. They talk in character, each preserves his own characteristics.
There are vivid fights, vivid and biting insults, vivid love-passages; there are
tragedies and comedies, there are griefs that go to one's heart, there are
sayings and doings that make you laugh: indeed, the whole thing is exactly like
O.M. Your dreaming mind originates the scheme, consistently and artistically
develops it, and carries the little drama creditably through—all without help
or suggestion from you?
O.M. It is argument that it could do the like awake without help or suggestion
from you—and I think it does. It is argument that it is the same old mind in
both cases, and never needs your help. I think the mind is purely a machine, a
thoroughly independent machine, an automatic machine. Have you tried the other
experiment which I suggested to you?
Y.M. Which one?
O.M. The one which was to determine how much influence you have over your
Y.M. Yes, and got more or less entertainment out of it. I did as you ordered: I
placed two texts before my eyes—one a dull one and barren of interest, the
other one full of interest, inflamed with it, white-hot with it. I commanded my
mind to busy itself solely with the dull one.
O.M. Did it obey?
Y.M. Well, no, it didn't. It busied itself with the other one.
O.M. Did you try hard to make it obey?
Y.M. Yes, I did my honest best.
O.M. What was the text which it refused to be interested in or think about?
Y.M. It was this question: If A owes B a dollar and a half, and B owes C two and
three-quarter, and C owes A thirty—five cents, and D and A together owe E and
B three-sixteenths of—of—I don't remember the rest, now, but anyway it was
wholly uninteresting, and I could not force my mind to stick to it even half a
minute at a time; it kept flying off to the other text.
O.M. What was the other text?
Y.M. It is no matter about that.
O.M. But what was it?
Y.M. A photograph.
O.M. Your own?
Y.M. No. It was hers.
O.M. You really made an honest good test. Did you make a second trial?
Y.M. Yes. I commanded my mind to interest itself in the morning paper's report
of the pork-market, and at the same time I reminded it of an experience of mine
of sixteen years ago. It refused to consider the pork and gave its whole blazing
interest to that ancient incident.
O.M. What was the incident?
Y.M. An armed desperado slapped my face in the presence of twenty spectators. It
makes me wild and murderous every time I think of it.
O.M. Good tests, both; very good tests. Did you try my other suggestion?
Y.M. The one which was to prove to me that if I would leave my mind to its own
devices it would find things to think about without any of my help, and thus
convince me that it was a machine, an automatic machine, set in motion by
exterior influences, and as independent of me as it could be if it were in some
one else's skull. Is that the one?
Y.M. I tried it. I was shaving. I had slept well, and my mind was very lively,
even gay and frisky. It was reveling in a fantastic and joyful episode of my
remote boyhood which had suddenly flashed up in my memory—moved to this by the
spectacle of a yellow cat picking its way carefully along the top of the garden
wall. The color of this cat brought the bygone cat before me, and I saw her
walking along the side-step of the pulpit; saw her walk on to a large sheet of
sticky fly-paper and get all her feet involved; saw her struggle and fall down,
helpless and dissatisfied, more and more urgent, more and more unreconciled,
more and more mutely profane; saw the silent congregation quivering like jelly,
and the tears running down their faces. I saw it all. The sight of the tears
whisked my mind to a far distant and a sadder scene—in Terra del Fuego—and
with Darwin's eyes I saw a naked great savage hurl his little boy against the
rocks for a trifling fault; saw the poor mother gather up her dying child and
hug it to her breast and weep, uttering no word. Did my mind stop to mourn with
that nude black sister of mine? No—it was far away from that scene in an
instant, and was busying itself with an ever-recurring and disagreeable dream of
mine. In this dream I always find myself, stripped to my shirt, cringing and
dodging about in the midst of a great drawing-room throng of finely dressed
ladies and gentlemen, and wondering how I got there. And so on and so on,
picture after picture, incident after incident, a drifting panorama of ever-
changing, ever-dissolving views manufactured by my mind without any help from
me—why, it would take me two hours to merely name the multitude of things my
mind tallied off and photographed in fifteen minutes, let alone describe them to
O.M. A man's mind, left free, has no use for his help. But there is one way
whereby he can get its help when he desires it.
Y.M. What is that way?
O.M. When your mind is racing along from subject to subject and strikes an
inspiring one, open your mouth and begin talking upon that matter—or—take
your pen and use that. It will interest your mind and concentrate it, and it
will pursue the subject with satisfaction. It will take full charge, and furnish
the words itself.
Y.M. But don't I tell it what to say?
O.M. There are certainly occasions when you haven't time. The words leap out
before you know what is coming.
Y.M. For instance?
O.M. Well, take a "flash of wit"—repartee. Flash is the right word. It is out
instantly. There is no time to arrange the words. There is no thinking, no
reflecting. Where there is a wit-mechanism it is automatic in its action and
needs no help. Where the wit-mechanism is lacking, no amount of study and
reflection can manufacture the product.
Y.M. You really think a man originates nothing, creates nothing.
O.M. I do. Men perceive, and their brain-machines automatically combine the
things perceived. That is all.
Y.M. The steam-engine?
O.M. It takes fifty men a hundred years to invent it. One meaning of invent is
discover. I use the word in that sense. Little by little they discover and apply
the multitude of details that go to make the perfect engine. Watt noticed that
confined steam was strong enough to lift the lid of the teapot. He didn't create
the idea, he merely discovered the fact; the cat had noticed it a hundred times.
From the teapot he evolved the cylinder—from the displaced lid he evolved the
piston-rod. To attach something to the piston-rod to be moved by it, was a
simple matter—crank and wheel. And so there was a working engine.
One by one, improvements were discovered by men who used their eyes, not their
creating powers—for they hadn't any—and now, after a hundred years the
patient contributions of fifty or a hundred observers stand compacted in the
wonderful machine which drives the ocean liner.
Y.M. A Shakespearean play?
O.M. The process is the same. The first actor was a savage. He reproduced in his
theatrical war-dances, scalp—dances, and so on, incidents which he had seen in
real life. A more advanced civilization produced more incidents, more episodes;
the actor and the story-teller borrowed them. And so the drama grew, little by
little, stage by stage. It is made up of the facts of life, not creations. It
took centuries to develop the Greek drama. It borrowed from preceding ages; it
lent to the ages that came after. Men observe and combine, that is all. So does
O.M. He observes a smell, he infers a cheese, he seeks and finds. The astronomer
observes this and that; adds his this and that to the this-and-thats of a
hundred predecessors, infers an invisible planet, seeks it and finds it. The rat
gets into a trap; gets out with trouble; infers that cheese in traps lacks
value, and meddles with that trap no more. The astronomer is very proud of his
achievement, the rat is proud of his. Yet both are machines; they have done
machine work, they have originated nothing, they have no right to be vain; the
whole credit belongs to their Maker. They are entitled to no honors, no praises,
no monuments when they die, no remembrance. One is a complex and elaborate
machine, the other a simple and limited machine, but they are alike in
principle, function, and process, and neither of them works otherwise than
automatically, and neither of them may righteously claim a personal superiority
or a personal dignity above the other.
Y.M. In earned personal dignity, then, and in personal merit for what he does,
it follows of necessity that he is on the same level as a rat?
O.M. His brother the rat; yes, that is how it seems to me. Neither of them being
entitled to any personal merit for what he does, it follows of necessity that
neither of them has a right to arrogate to himself (personally created)
superiorities over his brother.
Y.M. Are you determined to go on believing in these insanities? Would you go on
believing in them in the face of able arguments backed by collated facts and
O.M. I have been a humble, earnest, and sincere Truth-Seeker.
Y.M. Very well?
O.M. The humble, earnest, and sincere Truth-Seeker is always convertible by such
Y.M. I am thankful to God to hear you say this, for now I know that your
O.M. Wait. You misunderstand. I said I have been a Truth-Seeker.
O.M. I am not that now. Have your forgotten? I told you that there are none but
temporary Truth-Seekers; that a permanent one is a human impossibility; that as
soon as the Seeker finds what he is thoroughly convinced is the Truth, he seeks
no further, but gives the rest of his days to hunting junk to patch it and caulk
it and prop it with, and make it weather-proof and keep it from caving in on
him. Hence the Presbyterian remains a Presbyterian, the Mohammedan a Mohammedan,
the Spiritualist a Spiritualist, the Democrat a Democrat, the Republican a
Republican, the Monarchist a Monarchist; and if a humble, earnest, and sincere
Seeker after Truth should find it in the proposition that the moon is made of
green cheese nothing could ever budge him from that position; for he is nothing
but an automatic machine, and must obey the laws of his construction.
Y.M. And so—
O.M. Having found the Truth; perceiving that beyond question man has but one
moving impulse—the contenting of his own spirit—and is merely a machine and
entitled to no personal merit for anything he does, it is not humanly possible
for me to seek further. The rest of my days will be spent in patching and
painting and puttying and caulking my priceless possession and in looking the
other way when an imploring argument or a damaging fact approaches.
1. The Marquess of Worcester had done all of this more than a century earlier.
Instinct and Thought
Young Man. It is odious. Those drunken theories of yours, advanced a while
ago—concerning the rat and all that—strip Man bare of all his dignities,
Old Man. He hasn't any to strip—they are shams, stolen clothes. He claims
credits which belong solely to his Maker.
Y.M. But you have no right to put him on a level with a rat.
O.M. I don't—morally. That would not be fair to the rat. The rat is well above
Y.M. Are you joking?
O.M. No, I am not.
Y.M. Then what do you mean?
O.M. That comes under the head of the Moral Sense. It is a large question. Let
us finish with what we are about now, before we take it up.
Y.M. Very well. You have seemed to concede that you place Man and the rat on a
level. What is it? The intellectual?
O.M. In form—not a degree.
O.M. I think that the rat's mind and the man's mind are the same machine, but of
unequal capacities—like yours and Edison's; like the African pygmy's and
Homer's; like the Bushman's and Bismarck's.
Y.M. How are you going to make that out, when the lower animals have no mental
quality but instinct, while man possesses reason?
O.M. What is instinct?
Y.M. It is merely unthinking and mechanical exercise of inherited habit.
O.M. What originated the habit?
Y.M. The first animal started it, its descendants have inherited it.
O.M. How did the first one come to start it?
Y.M. I don't know; but it didn't think it out.
O.M. How do you know it didn't?
Y.M. Well—I have a right to suppose it didn't, anyway.
O.M. I don't believe you have. What is thought?
Y.M. I know what you call it: the mechanical and automatic putting together of
impressions received from outside, and drawing an inference from them.
O.M. Very good. Now my idea of the meaningless term "instinct" is, that it is
merely petrified thought; solidified and made inanimate by habit; thought which
was once alive and awake, but it become unconscious—walks in its sleep, so to
Y.M. Illustrate it.
O.M. Take a herd of cows, feeding in a pasture. Their heads are all turned in
one direction. They do that instinctively; they gain nothing by it, they have no
reason for it, they don't know why they do it. It is an inherited habit which
was originally thought—that is to say, observation of an exterior fact, and a
valuable inference drawn from that observation and confirmed by experience. The
original wild ox noticed that with the wind in his favor he could smell his
enemy in time to escape; then he inferred that it was worth while to keep his
nose to the wind. That is the process which man calls reasoning. Man's thought-
machine works just like the other animals', but it is a better one and more
Edisonian. Man, in the ox's place, would go further, reason wider: he would face
part of the herd the other way and protect both front and rear.
Y.M. Did you stay the term instinct is meaningless?
O.M. I think it is a bastard word. I think it confuses us; for as a rule it
applies itself to habits and impulses which had a far-off origin in thought, and
now and then breaks the rule and applies itself to habits which can hardly claim
Y.M. Give an instance.
O.M. Well, in putting on trousers a man always inserts the same old leg
first—never the other one. There is no advantage in that, and no sense in it.
All men do it, yet no man thought it out and adopted it of set purpose, I
imagine. But it is a habit which is transmitted, no doubt, and will continue to
Y.M. Can you prove that the habit exists?
O.M. You can prove it, if you doubt. If you will take a man to a clothing-store
and watch him try on a dozen pairs of trousers, you will see.
Y.M. The cow illustration is not—
O.M. Sufficient to show that a dumb animal's mental machine is just the same as
a man's and its reasoning processes the same? I will illustrate further. If you
should hand Mr. Edison a box which you caused to fly open by some concealed
device he would infer a spring, and would hunt for it and find it. Now an uncle
of mine had an old horse who used to get into the closed lot where the corn-crib
was and dishonestly take the corn. I got the punishment myself, as it was
supposed that I had heedlessly failed to insert the wooden pin which kept the
gate closed. These persistent punishments fatigued me; they also caused me to
infer the existence of a culprit, somewhere; so I hid myself and watched the
gate. Presently the horse came and pulled the pin out with his teeth and went
in. Nobody taught him that; he had observed—then thought it out for himself.
His process did not differ from Edison's; he put this and that together and drew
an inference—and the peg, too; but I made him sweat for it.
Y.M. It has something of the seeming of thought about it. Still it is not very
O.M. Suppose Mr. Edison has been enjoying some one's hospitalities. He comes
again by and by, and the house is vacant. He infers that his host has moved. A
while afterward, in another town, he sees the man enter a house; he infers that
that is the new home, and follows to inquire. Here, now, is the experience of a
gull, as related by a naturalist. The scene is a Scotch fishing village where
the gulls were kindly treated. This particular gull visited a cottage; was fed;
came next day and was fed again; came into the house, next time, and ate with
the family; kept on doing this almost daily, thereafter. But, once the gull was
away on a journey for a few days, and when it returned the house was vacant. Its
friends had removed to a village three miles distant. Several months later it
saw the head of the family on the street there, followed him home, entered the
house without excuse or apology, and became a daily guest again. Gulls do not
rank high mentally, but this one had memory and the reasoning faculty, you see,
and applied them Edisonially.
Y.M. Yet it was not an Edison and couldn't be developed into one.
O.M. Perhaps not. Could you?
Y.M. That is neither here nor there. Go on.
O.M. If Edison were in trouble and a stranger helped him out of it and next day
he got into the same difficulty again, he would infer the wise thing to do in
case he knew the stranger's address. Here is a case of a bird and a stranger as
related by a naturalist. An Englishman saw a bird flying around about his dog's
head, down in the grounds, and uttering cries of distress. He went there to see
about it. The dog had a young bird in his mouth—unhurt. The gentleman rescued
it and put it on a bush and brought the dog away. Early the next morning the
mother bird came for the gentleman, who was sitting on his veranda, and by its
maneuvers persuaded him to follow it to a distant part of the grounds—flying a
little way in front of him and waiting for him to catch up, and so on; and
keeping to the winding path, too, instead of flying the near way across lots.
The distance covered was four hundred yards. The same dog was the culprit; he
had the young bird again, and once more he had to give it up. Now the mother
bird had reasoned it all out: since the stranger had helped her once, she
inferred that he would do it again; she knew where to find him, and she went
upon her errand with confidence. Her mental processes were what Edison's would
have been. She put this and that together—and that is all that thought is
—and out of them built her logical arrangement of inferences. Edison couldn't
have done it any better himself.
Y.M. Do you believe that many of the dumb animals can think?
O.M. Yes—the elephant, the monkey, the horse, the dog, the parrot, the macaw,
the mocking-bird, and many others. The elephant whose mate fell into a pit, and
who dumped dirt and rubbish into the pit till bottom was raised high enough to
enable the captive to step out, was equipped with the reasoning quality. I
conceive that all animals that can learn things through teaching and drilling
have to know how to observe, and put this and that together and draw an
inference—the process of thinking. Could you teach an idiot of manuals of
arms, and to advance, retreat, and go through complex field maneuvers at the
word of command?
Y.M. Not if he were a thorough idiot.
O.M. Well, canary-birds can learn all that; dogs and elephants learn all sorts
of wonderful things. They must surely be able to notice, and to put things
together, and say to themselves, "I get the idea, now: when I do so and so, as
per order, I am praised and fed; when I do differently I am punished." Fleas can
be taught nearly anything that a Congressman can.
Y.M. Granting, then, that dumb animals are able to think upon a low plane, is
there any that can think upon a high one? Is there one that is well up toward
O.M. Yes. As a thinker and planner the ant is the equal of any savage race of
men; as a self-educated specialist in several arts she is the superior of any
savage race of men; and in one or two high mental qualities she is above the
reach of any man, savage or civilized!
Y.M. Oh, come! you are abolishing the intellectual frontier which separates man
O.M. I beg your pardon. One cannot abolish what does not exist.
Y.M. You are not in earnest, I hope. You cannot mean to seriously say there is
no such frontier.
O.M. I do say it seriously. The instances of the horse, the gull, the mother
bird, and the elephant show that those creatures put their this's and thats
together just as Edison would have done it and drew the same inferences that he
would have drawn. Their mental machinery was just like his, also its manner of
working. Their equipment was as inferior to the Strasburg clock, but that is the
only difference—there is no frontier.
Y.M. It looks exasperatingly true; and is distinctly offensive. It elevates the
dumb beasts to—to—
O.M. Let us drop that lying phrase, and call them the Unrevealed Creatures; so
far as we can know, there is no such thing as a dumb beast.
Y.M. On what grounds do you make that assertion?
O.M. On quite simple ones. "Dumb" beast suggests an animal that has no thought-
machinery, no understanding, no speech, no way of communicating what is in its
mind. We know that a hen has speech. We cannot understand everything she says,
but we easily learn two or three of her phrases. We know when she is saying, "I
have laid an egg"; we know when she is saying to the chicks, "Run here, dears,
I've found a worm"; we know what she is saying when she voices a warning:
"Quick! hurry! gather yourselves under mamma, there's a hawk coming!" We
understand the cat when she stretches herself out, purring with affection and
contentment and lifts up a soft voice and says, "Come, kitties, supper's ready";
we understand her when she goes mourning about and says, "Where can they be?
They are lost. Won't you help me hunt for them?" and we understand the
disreputable Tom when he challenges at midnight from his shed, "You come over
here, you product of immoral commerce, and I'll make your fur fly!" We
understand a few of a dog's phrases and we learn to understand a few of the
remarks and gestures of any bird or other animal that we domesticate and
observe. The clearness and exactness of the few of the hen's speeches which we
understand is argument that she can communicate to her kind a hundred things
which we cannot comprehend—in a word, that she can converse. And this argument
is also applicable in the case of others of the great army of the Unrevealed. It
is just like man's vanity and impertinence to call an animal dumb because it is
dumb to his dull perceptions. Now as to the ant—
Y.M. Yes, go back to the ant, the creature that—as you seem to think—sweeps
away the last vestige of an intellectual frontier between man and the
O.M. That is what she surely does. In all his history the aboriginal Australian
never thought out a house for himself and built it. The ant is an amazing
architect. She is a wee little creature, but she builds a strong and enduring
house eight feet high—a house which is as large in proportion to her size as
is the largest capitol or cathedral in the world compared to man's size. No
savage race has produced architects who could approach the ant in genius or
culture. No civilized race has produced architects who could plan a house better
for the uses proposed than can hers. Her house contains a throne-room; nurseries
for her young; granaries; apartments for her soldiers, her workers, etc.; and
they and the multifarious halls and corridors which communicate with them are
arranged and distributed with an educated and experienced eye for convenience
Y.M. That could be mere instinct.
O.M. It would elevate the savage if he had it. But let us look further before we
decide. The ant has soldiers—battalions, regiments, armies; and they have
their appointed captains and generals, who lead them to battle.
Y.M. That could be instinct, too.
O.M. We will look still further. The ant has a system of government; it is well
planned, elaborate, and is well carried on.
Y.M. Instinct again.
O.M. She has crowds of slaves, and is a hard and unjust employer of forced
O.M. She has cows, and milks them.
Y.M. Instinct, of course.
O.M. In Texas she lays out a farm twelve feet square, plants it, weeds it,
cultivates it, gathers the crop and stores it away.
Y.M. Instinct, all the same.
O.M. The ant discriminates between friend and stranger. Sir John Lubbock took
ants from two different nests, made them drunk with whiskey and laid them,
unconscious, by one of the nests, near some water. Ants from the nest came and
examined and discussed these disgraced creatures, then carried their friends
home and threw the strangers overboard. Sir John repeated the experiment a
number of times. For a time the sober ants did as they had done at
first—carried their friends home and threw the strangers overboard. But
finally they lost patience, seeing that their reformatory efforts went for
nothing, and threw both friends and strangers overboard. Come—is this
instinct, or is it thoughtful and intelligent discussion of a thing
new—absolutely new—to their experience; with a verdict arrived at, sentence
passed, and judgment executed? Is it instinct?—thought petrified by ages of
habit—or isn't it brand-new thought, inspired by the new occasion, the new
Y.M. I have to concede it. It was not a result of habit; it has all the look of
reflection, thought, putting this and that together, as you phrase it. I believe
it was thought.
O.M. I will give you another instance of thought. Franklin had a cup of sugar on
a table in his room. The ants got at it. He tried several preventives; and ants
rose superior to them. Finally he contrived one which shut off access—probably
set the table's legs in pans of water, or drew a circle of tar around the cup, I
don't remember. At any rate, he watched to see what they would do. They tried
various schemes—failures, every one. The ants were badly puzzled. Finally they
held a consultation, discussed the problem, arrived at a decision—and this
time they beat that great philosopher. They formed in procession, cross the
floor, climbed the wall, marched across the ceiling to a point just over the
cup, then one by one they let go and fell down into it! Was that
instinct—thought petrified by ages of inherited habit?
Y.M. No, I don't believe it was. I believe it was a newly reasoned scheme to
meet a new emergency.
O.M. Very well. You have conceded the reasoning power in two instances. I come
now to a mental detail wherein the ant is a long way the superior of any human
being. Sir John Lubbock proved by many experiments that an ant knows a stranger
ant of her own species in a moment, even when the stranger is disguised—with
paint. Also he proved that an ant knows every individual in her hive of five
hundred thousand souls. Also, after a year's absence one of the five hundred
thousand she will straightway recognize the returned absentee and grace the
recognition with an affectionate welcome. How are these recognitions made? Not
by color, for painted ants were recognized. Not by smell, for ants that had been
dipped in chloroform were recognized. Not by speech and not by antennae signs
nor contacts, for the drunken and motionless ants were recognized and the friend
discriminated from the stranger. The ants were all of the same species,
therefore the friends had to be recognized by form and feature—friends who
formed part of a hive of five hundred thousand! Has any man a memory for form
and feature approaching that?
Y.M. Certainly not.
O.M. Franklin's ants and Lubbuck's ants show fine capacities of putting this and
that together in new and untried emergencies and deducting smart conclusions
from the combinations—a man's mental process exactly. With memory to help, man
preserves his observations and reasonings, reflects upon them, adds to them,
recombines, and so proceeds, stage by stage, to far results—from the teakettle
to the ocean greyhound's complex engine; from personal labor to slave labor;
from wigwam to palace; from the capricious chase to agriculture and stored food;
from nomadic life to stable government and concentrated authority; from
incoherent hordes to massed armies. The ant has observation, the reasoning
faculty, and the preserving adjunct of a prodigious memory; she has duplicated
man's development and the essential features of his civilization, and you call
it all instinct!
Y.M. Perhaps I lacked the reasoning faculty myself.
O.M. Well, don't tell anybody, and don't do it again.
Y.M. We have come a good way. As a result—as I understand it—I am required
to concede that there is absolutely no intellectual frontier separating Man and
the Unrevealed Creatures?
O.M. That is what you are required to concede. There is no such frontier—there
is no way to get around that. Man has a finer and more capable machine in him
than those others, but it is the same machine and works in the same way. And
neither he nor those others can command the machine—it is strictly automatic,
independent of control, works when it pleases, and when it doesn't please, it
can't be forced.
Y.M. Then man and the other animals are all alike, as to mental machinery, and
there isn't any difference of any stupendous magnitude between them, except in
quality, not in kind.
O.M. That is about the state of it—intellectuality. There are pronounced
limitations on both sides. We can't learn to understand much of their language,
but the dog, the elephant, etc., learn to understand a very great deal of ours.
To that extent they are our superiors. On the other hand, they can't learn
reading, writing, etc., nor any of our fine and high things, and there we have a
large advantage over them.
Y.M. Very well, let them have what they've got, and welcome; there is still a
wall, and a lofty one. They haven't got the Moral Sense; we have it, and it
lifts us immeasurably above them.
O.M. What makes you think that?
Y.M. Now look here—let's call a halt. I have stood the other infamies and
insanities and that is enough; I am not going to have man and the other animals
put on the same level morally.
O.M. I wasn't going to hoist man up to that.
Y.M. This is too much! I think it is not right to jest about such things.
O.M. I am not jesting, I am merely reflecting a plain and simple truth—and
without uncharitableness. The fact that man knows right from wrong proves his
intellectual superiority to the other creatures; but the fact that he can do
wrong proves his moral inferiority to any creature that cannot. It is my belief
that this position is not assailable.
Y.M. What is your opinion regarding Free Will?
O.M. That there is no such thing. Did the man possess it who gave the old woman
his last shilling and trudged home in the storm?
Y.M. He had the choice between succoring the old woman and leaving her to
suffer. Isn't it so?
O.M. Yes, there was a choice to be made, between bodily comfort on the one hand
and the comfort of the spirit on the other. The body made a strong appeal, of
course—the body would be quite sure to do that; the spirit made a counter
appeal. A choice had to be made between the two appeals, and was made. Who or
what determined that choice?
Y.M. Any one but you would say that the man determined it, and that in doing it
he exercised Free Will.
O.M. We are constantly assured that every man is endowed with Free Will, and
that he can and must exercise it where he is offered a choice between good
conduct and less-good conduct. Yet we clearly saw that in that man's case he
really had no Free Will: his temperament, his training, and the daily influences
which had molded him and made him what he was, compelled him to rescue the old
woman and thus save himself —save himself from spiritual pain, from
unendurable wretchedness. He did not make the choice, it was made for him by
forces which he could not control. Free Will has always existed in words, but it
stops there, I think—stops short of fact. I would not use those words—Free
Y.M. What others?
O.M. Free Choice.
Y.M. What is the difference?
O.M. The one implies untrammeled power to act as you please, the other implies
nothing beyond a mere mental process: the critical ability to determine which of
two things is nearest right and just.
Y.M. Make the difference clear, please.
O.M. The mind can freely select, choose, point out the right and just one—its
function stops there. It can go no further in the matter. It has no authority to
say that the right one shall be acted upon and the wrong one discarded. That
authority is in other hands.
Y.M. The man's?
O.M. In the machine which stands for him. In his born disposition and the
character which has been built around it by training and environment.
Y.M. It will act upon the right one of the two?
O.M. It will do as it pleases in the matter. George Washington's machine would
act upon the right one; Pizarro would act upon the wrong one.
Y.M. Then as I understand it a bad man's mental machinery calmly and judicially
points out which of two things is right and just—
O.M. Yes, and his moral machinery will freely act upon the other or the other,
according to its make, and be quite indifferent to the mind's feeling concerning
the matter—that is, would be, if the mind had any feelings; which it hasn't.
It is merely a thermometer: it registers the heat and the cold, and cares not a
farthing about either.
Y.M. Then we must not claim that if a man knows which of two things is right he
is absolutely bound to do that thing?
O.M. His temperament and training will decide what he shall do, and he will do
it; he cannot help himself, he has no authority over the mater. Wasn't it right
for David to go out and slay Goliath?
O.M. Then it would have been equally right for any one else to do it?
O.M. Then it would have been right for a born coward to attempt it?
Y.M. It would—yes.
O.M. You know that no born coward ever would have attempted it, don't you?
O.M. You know that a born coward's make and temperament would be an absolute and
insurmountable bar to his ever essaying such a thing, don't you?
Y.M. Yes, I know it.
O.M. He clearly perceives that it would be right to try it?
O.M. His mind has Free Choice in determining that it would be right to try it?
O.M. Then if by reason of his inborn cowardice he simply can not essay it, what
becomes of his Free Will? Where is his Free Will? Why claim that he has Free
Will when the plain facts show that he hasn't? Why content that because he and
David see the right alike, both must act alike? Why impose the same laws upon
goat and lion?
Y.M. There is really no such thing as Free Will?
O.M. It is what I think. There is will. But it has nothing to do with
intellectual perceptions of right and wrong, and is not under their command.
David's temperament and training had Will, and it was a compulsory force; David
had to obey its decrees, he had no choice. The coward's temperament and training
possess Will, and it is compulsory; it commands him to avoid danger, and he
obeys, he has no choice. But neither the Davids nor the cowards possess Free
Will—will that may do the right or do the wrong, as their mental verdict shall
Not Two Values, But Only One
Y.M. There is one thing which bothers me: I can't tell where you draw the line
between material covetousness and spiritual covetousness.
O.M. I don't draw any.
Y.M. How do you mean?
O.M. There is no such thing as material covetousness. All covetousness is
Y.M. All longings, desires, ambitions spiritual, never material?
O.M. Yes. The Master in you requires that in all cases you shall content his
spirit —that alone. He never requires anything else, he never interests
himself in any other matter.
Y.M. Ah, come! When he covets somebody's money—isn't that rather distinctly
material and gross?
O.M. No. The money is merely a symbol—it represents in visible and concrete
form a spiritual desire. Any so-called material thing that you want is merely a
symbol: you want it not for itself, but because it will content your spirit for
Y.M. Please particularize.
O.M. Very well. Maybe the thing longed for is a new hat. You get it and your
vanity is pleased, your spirit contented. Suppose your friends deride the hat,
make fun of it: at once it loses its value; you are ashamed of it, you put it
out of your sight, you never want to see it again.
Y.M. I think I see. Go on.
O.M. It is the same hat, isn't it? It is in no way altered. But it wasn't the
hat you wanted, but only what it stood for—a something to please and content
your spirit. When it failed of that, the whole of its value was gone. There are
no material values; there are only spiritual ones. You will hunt in vain for a
material value that is actual, real—there is no such thing. The only value it
possesses, for even a moment, is the spiritual value back of it: remove that end
and it is at once worthless—like the hat.
Y.M. Can you extend that to money?
O.M. Yes. It is merely a symbol, it has no material value; you think you desire
it for its own sake, but it is not so. You desire it for the spiritual content
it will bring; if it fail of that, you discover that its value is gone. There is
that pathetic tale of the man who labored like a slave, unresting, unsatisfied,
until he had accumulated a fortune, and was happy over it, jubilant about it;
then in a single week a pestilence swept away all whom he held dear and left him
desolate. His money's value was gone. He realized that his joy in it came not
from the money itself, but from the spiritual contentment he got out of his
family's enjoyment of the pleasures and delights it lavished upon them. Money
has no material value; if you remove its spiritual value nothing is left but
dross. It is so with all things, little or big, majestic or trivial—there are
no exceptions. Crowns, scepters, pennies, paste jewels, village notoriety, world-
wide fame—they are all the same, they have no material value: while they
content the spirit they are precious, when this fails they are worthless.
A Difficult Question
Y.M. You keep me confused and perplexed all the time by your elusive
terminology. Sometimes you divide a man up into two or three separate
personalities, each with authorities, jurisdictions, and responsibilities of its
own, and when he is in that condition I can't grasp it. Now when I speak of a
man, he is the whole thing in one, and easy to hold and contemplate.
O.M. That is pleasant and convenient, if true. When you speak of "my body" who
is the "my"?
Y.M. It is the "me."
O.M. The body is a property then, and the Me owns it. Who is the Me?
Y.M. The Me is the whole thing; it is a common property; an undivided ownership,
vested in the whole entity.
O.M. If the Me admires a rainbow, is it the whole Me that admires it, including
the hair, hands, heels, and all?
Y.M. Certainly not. It is my mind that admires it.
O.M. So you divide the Me yourself. Everybody does; everybody must. What, then,
definitely, is the Me?
Y.M. I think it must consist of just those two parts—the body and the mind.
O.M. You think so? If you say "I believe the world is round," who is the "I"
that is speaking?
Y.M. The mind.
O.M. If you say "I grieve for the loss of my father," who is the "I"?
Y.M. The mind.
O.M. Is the mind exercising an intellectual function when it examines and
accepts the evidence that the world is round?
O.M. Is it exercising an intellectual function when it grieves for the loss of
Y.M. That is not cerebration, brain-work, it is a matter of feeling.
O.M. Then its source is not in your mind, but in your moral territory?
Y.M. I have to grant it.
O.M. Is your mind a part of your physical equipment?
Y.M. No. It is independent of it; it is spiritual.
O.M. Being spiritual, it cannot be affected by physical influences?
O.M. Does the mind remain sober with the body is drunk?
O.M. There is a physical effect present, then?
Y.M. It looks like it.
O.M. A cracked skull has resulted in a crazy mind. Why should it happen if the
mind is spiritual, and independent of physical influences?
Y.M. Well—I don't know.
O.M. When you have a pain in your foot, how do you know it?
Y.M. I feel it.
O.M. But you do not feel it until a nerve reports the hurt to the brain. Yet the
brain is the seat of the mind, is it not?
Y.M. I think so.
O.M. But isn't spiritual enough to learn what is happening in the outskirts
without the help of the physical messenger? You perceive that the question of
who or what the Me is, is not a simple one at all. You say "I admire the
rainbow," and "I believe the world is round," and in these cases we find that
the Me is not speaking, but only the mental part. You say, "I grieve," and again
the Me is not all speaking, but only the moral part. You say the mind is wholly
spiritual; then you say "I have a pain" and find that this time the Me is mental
and spiritual combined. We all use the "I" in this indeterminate fashion, there
is no help for it. We imagine a Master and King over what you call The Whole
Thing, and we speak of him as "I," but when we try to define him we find we
cannot do it. The intellect and the feelings can act quite independently of each
other; we recognize that, and we look around for a Ruler who is master over
both, and can serve as a definite and indisputable "I," and enable us to know
what we mean and who or what we are talking about when we use that pronoun, but
we have to give it up and confess that we cannot find him. To me, Man is a
machine, made up of many mechanisms, the moral and mental ones acting
automatically in accordance with the impulses of an interior Master who is built
out of born-temperament and an accumulation of multitudinous outside influences
and trainings; a machine whose one function is to secure the spiritual
contentment of the Master, be his desires good or be they evil; a machine whose
Will is absolute and must be obeyed, and always is obeyed.
Y.M. Maybe the Me is the Soul?
O.M. Maybe it is. What is the Soul?
Y.M. I don't know.
O.M. Neither does any one else.
The Master Passion
Y.M. What is the Master?—or, in common speech, the Conscience? Explain it.
O.M. It is that mysterious autocrat, lodged in a man, which compels the man to
content its desires. It may be called the Master Passion—the hunger for Self-
Y.M. Where is its seat?
O.M. In man's moral constitution.
Y.M. Are its commands for the man's good?
O.M. It is indifferent to the man's good; it never concerns itself about
anything but the satisfying of its own desires. It can be trained to prefer
things which will be for the man's good, but it will prefer them only because
they will content it better than other things would.
Y.M. Then even when it is trained to high ideals it is still looking out for its
own contentment, and not for the man's good.
O.M. True. Trained or untrained, it cares nothing for the man's good, and never
concerns itself about it.
Y.M. It seems to be an immoral force seated in the man's moral constitution.
O.M. It is a colorless force seated in the man's moral constitution. Let us call
it an instinct—a blind, unreasoning instinct, which cannot and does not
distinguish between good morals and bad ones, and cares nothing for results to
the man provided its own contentment be secured; and it will always secure that.
Y.M. It seeks money, and it probably considers that that is an advantage for the
O.M. It is not always seeking money, it is not always seeking power, nor office,
nor any other material advantage. In all cases it seeks a spiritual contentment,
let the means be what they may. Its desires are determined by the man's
temperament—and it is lord over that. Temperament, Conscience, Susceptibility,
Spiritual Appetite, are, in fact, the same thing. Have you ever heard of a
person who cared nothing for money?
Y.M. Yes. A scholar who would not leave his garret and his books to take a place
in a business house at a large salary.
O.M. He had to satisfy his master—that is to say, his temperament, his
Spiritual Appetite—and it preferred books to money. Are there other cases?
Y.M. Yes, the hermit.
O.M. It is a good instance. The hermit endures solitude, hunger, cold, and
manifold perils, to content his autocrat, who prefers these things, and prayer
and contemplation, to money or to any show or luxury that money can buy. Are
Y.M. Yes. The artist, the poet, the scientist.
O.M. Their autocrat prefers the deep pleasures of these occupations, either well
paid or ill paid, to any others in the market, at any price. You realize that
the Master Passion—the contentment of the spirit—concerns itself with many
things besides so-called material advantage, material prosperity, cash, and all
Y.M. I think I must concede it.
O.M. I believe you must. There are perhaps as many Temperaments that would
refuse the burdens and vexations and distinctions of public office as there are
that hunger after them. The one set of Temperaments seek the contentment of the
spirit, and that alone; and this is exactly the case with the other set. Neither
set seeks anything but the contentment of the spirit. If the one is sordid, both
are sordid; and equally so, since the end in view is precisely the same in both
cases. And in both cases Temperament decides the preference—and Temperament is
born, not made.
O.M. You have been taking a holiday?
Y.M. Yes; a mountain tramp covering a week. Are you ready to talk?
O.M. Quite ready. What shall we begin with?
Y.M. Well, lying abed resting up, two days and nights, I have thought over all
these talks, and passed them carefully in review. With this result: that...
that... are you intending to publish your notions about Man some day?
O.M. Now and then, in these past twenty years, the Master inside of me has half-
intended to order me to set them to paper and publish them. Do I have to tell
you why the order has remained unissued, or can you explain so simply a thing
without my help?
Y.M. By your doctrine, it is simplicity itself: outside influences moved your
interior Master to give the order; stronger outside influences deterred him.
Without the outside influences, neither of these impulses could ever have been
born, since a person's brain is incapable or originating an idea within itself.
O.M. Correct. Go on.
Y.M. The matter of publishing or withholding is still in your Master's hands. If
some day an outside influence shall determine him to publish, he will give the
order, and it will be obeyed.
O.M. That is correct. Well?
Y.M. Upon reflection I have arrived at the conviction that the publication of
your doctrines would be harmful. Do you pardon me?
O.M. Pardon you? You have done nothing. You are an instrument—a speaking-
trumpet. Speaking-trumpets are not responsible for what is said through them.
Outside influences—in the form of lifelong teachings, trainings, notions,
prejudices, and other second-hand importations—have persuaded the Master
within you that the publication of these doctrines would be harmful. Very well,
this is quite natural, and was to be expected; in fact, was inevitable. Go on;
for the sake of ease and convenience, stick to habit: speak in the first person,
and tell me what your Master thinks about it.
Y.M. Well, to begin: it is a desolating doctrine; it is not inspiring,
enthusing, uplifting. It takes the glory out of man, it takes the pride out of
him, it takes the heroism out of him, it denies him all personal credit, all
applause; it not only degrades him to a machine, but allows him no control over
the machine; makes a mere coffee-mill of him, and neither permits him to supply
the coffee nor turn the crank, his sole and piteously humble function being to
grind coarse or fine, according to his make, outside impulses doing the rest.
O.M. It is correctly stated. Tell me—what do men admire most in each other?
Y.M. Intellect, courage, majesty of build, beauty of countenance, charity,
benevolence, magnanimity, kindliness, heroism, and—and—
O.M. I would not go any further. These are elementals. Virtue, fortitude,
holiness, truthfulness, loyalty, high ideals—these, and all the related
qualities that are named in the dictionary, are made of the elementals, by
blendings, combinations, and shadings of the elementals, just as one makes green
by blending blue and yellow, and makes several shades and tints of red by
modifying the elemental red. There are several elemental colors; they are all in
the rainbow; out of them we manufacture and name fifty shades of them. You have
named the elementals of the human rainbow, and also one blend —heroism, which
is made out of courage and magnanimity. Very well, then; which of these elements
does the possessor of it manufacture for himself? Is it intellect?
Y.M. He is born with it.
O.M. Is it courage?
Y.M. No. He is born with it.
O.M. Is it majesty of build, beauty of countenance?
Y.M. No. They are birthrights.
O.M. Take those others—the elemental moral qualities—charity, benevolence,
magnanimity, kindliness; fruitful seeds, out of which spring, through
cultivation by outside influences, all the manifold blends and combinations of
virtues named in the dictionaries: does man manufacture any of those seeds, or
are they all born in him?
Y.M. Born in him.
O.M. Who manufactures them, then?
O.M. Where does the credit of it belong?
Y.M. To God.
O.M. And the glory of which you spoke, and the applause?
Y.M. To God.
O.M. Then it is you who degrade man. You make him claim glory, praise, flattery,
for every valuable thing he possesses—borrowed finery, the whole of it; no rag
of it earned by himself, not a detail of it produced by his own labor. You make
man a humbug; have I done worse by him?
Y.M. You have made a machine of him.
O.M. Who devised that cunning and beautiful mechanism, a man's hand?
O.M. Who devised the law by which it automatically hammers out of a piano an
elaborate piece of music, without error, while the man is thinking about
something else, or talking to a friend?
O.M. Who devised the blood? Who devised the wonderful machinery which
automatically drives its renewing and refreshing streams through the body, day
and night, without assistance or advice from the man? Who devised the man's
mind, whose machinery works automatically, interests itself in what it pleases,
regardless of its will or desire, labors all night when it likes, deaf to his
appeals for mercy? God devised all these things. I have not made man a machine,
God made him a machine. I am merely calling attention to the fact, nothing more.
Is it wrong to call attention to the fact? Is it a crime?
Y.M. I think it is wrong to expose a fact when harm can come of it.
O.M. Go on.
Y.M. Look at the matter as it stands now. Man has been taught that he is the
supreme marvel of the Creation; he believes it; in all the ages he has never
doubted it, whether he was a naked savage, or clothed in purple and fine linen,
and civilized. This has made his heart buoyant, his life cheery. His pride in
himself, his sincere admiration of himself, his joy in what he supposed were his
own and unassisted achievements, and his exultation over the praise and applause
which they evoked—these have exalted him, enthused him, ambitioned him to
higher and higher flights; in a word, made his life worth the living. But by
your scheme, all this is abolished; he is degraded to a machine, he is a nobody,
his noble prides wither to mere vanities; let him strive as he may, he can never
be any better than his humblest and stupidest neighbor; he would never be
cheerful again, his life would not be worth the living.
O.M. You really think that?
Y.M. I certainly do.
O.M. Have you ever seen me uncheerful, unhappy.
O.M. Well, I believe these things. Why have they not made me unhappy?
Y.M. Oh, well—temperament, of course! You never let that escape from your
O.M. That is correct. If a man is born with an unhappy temperament, nothing can
make him happy; if he is born with a happy temperament, nothing can make him
Y.M. What—not even a degrading and heart-chilling system of beliefs?
O.M. Beliefs? Mere beliefs? Mere convictions? They are powerless. They strive in
vain against inborn temperament.
Y.M. I can't believe that, and I don't.
O.M. Now you are speaking hastily. It shows that you have not studiously
examined the facts. Of all your intimates, which one is the happiest? Isn't it
O.M. And which one is the unhappiest? Henry Adams?
Y.M. Without a question!
O.M. I know them well. They are extremes, abnormals; their temperaments are as
opposite as the poles. Their life-histories are about alike—but look at the
results! Their ages are about the same—about around fifty. Burgess had always
been buoyant, hopeful, happy; Adams has always been cheerless, hopeless,
despondent. As young fellows both tried country journalism—and failed. Burgess
didn't seem to mind it; Adams couldn't smile, he could only mourn and groan over
what had happened and torture himself with vain regrets for not having done so
and so instead of so and so—then he would have succeeded. They tried the
law—and failed. Burgess remained happy—because he couldn't help it. Adams
was wretched—because he couldn't help it. From that day to this, those two men
have gone on trying things and failing: Burgess has come out happy and cheerful
every time; Adams the reverse. And we do absolutely know that these men's inborn
temperaments have remained unchanged through all the vicissitudes of their
material affairs. Let us see how it is with their immaterials. Both have been
zealous Democrats; both have been zealous Republicans; both have been zealous
Mugwumps. Burgess has always found happiness and Adams unhappiness in these
several political beliefs and in their migrations out of them. Both of these men
have been Presbyterians, Universalists, Methodists, Catholics—then
Presbyterians again, then Methodists again. Burgess has always found rest in
these excursions, and Adams unrest. They are trying Christian Science, now, with
the customary result, the inevitable result. No political or religious belief
can make Burgess unhappy or the other man happy. I assure you it is purely a
matter of temperament. Beliefs are acquirements, temperaments are born; beliefs
are subject to change, nothing whatever can change temperament.
Y.M. You have instanced extreme temperaments.
O.M. Yes, the half-dozen others are modifications of the extremes. But the law
is the same. Where the temperament is two-thirds happy, or two-thirds unhappy,
no political or religious beliefs can change the proportions. The vast majority
of temperaments are pretty equally balanced; the intensities are absent, and
this enables a nation to learn to accommodate itself to its political and
religious circumstances and like them, be satisfied with them, at last prefer
them. Nations do not think, they only feel. They get their feelings at second
hand through their temperaments, not their brains. A nation can be brought—by
force of circumstances, not argument—to reconcile itself to any kind of
government or religion that can be devised; in time it will fit itself to the
required conditions; later, it will prefer them and will fiercely fight for
them. As instances, you have all history: the Greeks, the Romans, the Persians,
the Egyptians, the Russians, the Germans, the French, the English, the
Spaniards, the Americans, the South Americans, the Japanese, the Chinese, the
Hindus, the Turks—a thousand wild and tame religions, every kind of government
that can be thought of, from tiger to house-cat, each nation knowing it has the
only true religion and the only sane system of government, each despising all
the others, each an ass and not suspecting it, each proud of its fancied
supremacy, each perfectly sure it is the pet of God, each without undoubting
confidence summoning Him to take command in time of war, each surprised when He
goes over to the enemy, but by habit able to excuse it and resume
compliments—in a word, the whole human race content, always content,
persistently content, indestructibly content, happy, thankful, proud, no matter
what its religion is, nor whether its master be tiger or house-cat. Am I stating
facts? You know I am. Is the human race cheerful? You know it is. Considering
what it can stand, and be happy, you do me too much honor when you think that I
can place before it a system of plain cold facts that can take the cheerfulness
out of it. Nothing can do that. Everything has been tried. Without success. I
beg you not to be troubled.