by Elbert Hubbard (1856-1915)
EDITORIAL NOTE: Originally, this essay was included in the Little Journey series printed in 1900 by The Roycrofter Press owned by Hubbard. Hubbard described himself as an anarchist formed in the same mold that forged Wallt Whitman, John Ruskin, Henry Thoreau and Leo Tolstoy and William Morris. I reprint these essays because people seem to think that they can learn nothing from people who wrote over a hundred years ago. Hubbard proves them wrong every time.
There was nothing of Jack Falstaff about Francis Schlatter, whose whitened bones were found amid the alkali dust of the desert, a few years ago—dead in an endeavor to do without meat and drink for forty days.
Schlatter purported, and believed, that he was the reincarnation of the Messiah. Letters were sent to him, addressed simply, “Jesus Christ, Denver, Colorado,” and he walked up to the General-Delivery window and asked for them with a confidence, we are told, that relieved the postmaster of a grave responsibility.
Schlatter was no mere ordinary pretender, working on the superstitions of shallow-pated people. He lived up to his belief—took no money, avoided notoriety when he could; and the proof of his sincerity lies in the fact that he died a victim to it.
Herbert Spencer has said all about the Messianic Instinct that there is to say, save this—the Messianic Instinct first had its germ in the heart of a woman. Every woman dreams of the coming of the Ideal Man—the man who will give her protection, even to giving up his life for her, and vouchsafe peace to her soul. I am told by a noted Bishop of the Catholic Church that many women who become nuns are prompted to take their vows solely through the occasion of an unrequited love. They become the bride of the Church and find their highest joy in following the will of Christ. He is their only Spouse and Master.
The terms of endearment one hears at prayer-meetings, “Blessed Jesus,” “Dear Jesus,” “Loving Jesus,” “Elder Brother,” “Patient, gentle Jesus,” etc., were first used by women in an ecstasy of religious transport. And the thought of Jesus as a loving, “personal Savior,” would die from the face of the earth did not women keep it alive. The religious nature and the sex nature are closely akin: no psychologist can tell where the one ends and the other begins.
There may be wooden women in the world, and of these I will not speak, but every strong, pulsing, feeling, thinking woman goes through life, seeking the Ideal Man. Whether she is married or single, rich or poor, old or young, every new man she meets is interesting to her, because she feels in some mysterious way that possibly he is the One.
Of course, I know that every good man, too, seeks the Ideal Woman—but that deserves another chapter.
The only woman in whose heart there is not the live, warm, Messianic Instinct is the wooden woman, and the one who believes she has already found him. But this latter is holding an illusion that soon vanishes with possession.
That pale, low-voiced, gentle and insane man, Francis Schlatter, was followed at times by troops of women. These women believed in him and loved him—in different ways, of course, and with passion varying according to temperament and the domestic environment already existing. To love deeply is a matter of propinquity and opportunity.
One woman, whom “The Healer” had cured of a lingering disease, loved this man with a wild, mad, absorbing passion. Chance gave her the opportunity. He came to her house, cold, hungry, homeless, sick. She fed him, warmed him, looked into his liquid eyes, sat at his feet and listened to his voice. She loved him—and partook of his every mental delusion.
This woman now waits and watches in her mountain home for his return. She knows the coyotes and buzzards picked the scant flesh from his starved frame, but she says: “He promised he would come back to me, and he will. I am waiting for him here.”
This woman writes me long letters from her solitude, telling me of her hopes and plans. Just why all the cranks in the United States should write me letters, I do not know, but they do—perhaps there is a sort o’ fellow-feeling. This woman may write letters to others, just as she does to me. Of this I do not know, but surely I would not thus make public the heart-tragedy told me in a private letter, were it not that the woman herself has printed a pamphlet, setting forth her faith and veiling only those things into which it is not our right to pry.
This Mary Magdalene believes her lover was the Chosen Son of God, and that the Father will reclothe the Son in a new garment of flesh and send him back to his beloved. So she watches and waits, and dresses herself to receive him, and at night places a lighted lantern in the window to guide the way.
She watches and waits.
Other women wait for footsteps that will never come, and listen for a voice that will never be heard. All round the world there is a sisterhood of such. Some, being wise, lose themselves in loving service to others—in useful work. But this woman, out in the wilds of New Mexico, hugs her sorrow to her heart, and feeds her passion by recounting it, and watches away the leaden hours, crying aloud to all who will listen: “He is not dead—he is not dead! he will come back to me! He promised it—he will come back to me! This long, dreary waiting is only a test of my loyalty and love! I will be patient, for he will come back to me! He will come back to me!”
This world would be a sorry place if most men conducted their lives on the Robert Burns plan. Burns was affectionate, tender, generous and kind; but he was not wise. He never saw the future, nor did he know that life is a sequence, and that if you do this, it is pretty sure to lead to that. His loves were largely of the earth.
Excess was a part of his wayward, undisciplined nature; and that constant tendency to put an enemy in his mouth to steal away his brains, bound him at last, hand and foot. His old age could never have been frosty, but kindly—it would have been babbling, irritable, senile, sickening. Death was kind and reaped him young. Sex was the rock on which Robert Burns split. He seemed to regard pleasure-seeking as the prime end of life, and in this he was not so very far removed from the prevalent “civilized” society notion of marriage. But it is a phantasmal idea, and makes a mock of marriage, serving the satirist his excuse.
To a great degree the race is yet barbaric, and as a people we fail utterly to touch the hem of the garment of Divinity. We have been mired in the superstition that sex is unclean, and therefore honesty and free expression in love matters have been tabued.
But the day will yet dawn when we will see that it takes two to generate thought; that there is the male man and the female man, and only where these two walk together hand in hand is there a perfect sanity and a perfect physical, moral and spiritual health.
We reach infinity through the love of one, and loving this one, we are in love with all. And this condition of mutual sympathy, trust, reverence, forbearance and gentleness that can exist between a man and a woman, gives the only hint of Heaven that mortals ever know. From the love of man for woman we guess the love of God, just as the scientist from a single bone constructs the skeleton—aye! and then clothes it with a complete garment.
In their love-affairs women are seldom wise, or men just. How should we expect them to be when but yesterday woman was a chattel and man a slave-owner? Woman won by diplomacy—that is to say, by trickery and untruth, and man had his way through force, and neither is quite willing to disarm. An amalgamated personality is the rare exception, because neither Church, State nor Society yet fully recognizes the fact that spiritual comradeship and the marriage of the mind constitute the only Divine mating. Doctor Blacklock once said that Robert Burns had eyes like the Christ. Women who looked into those wide-open, generous orbs lost their hearts in the liquid depths.
In the natures of Robert Burns and Francis Schlatter there was little in common; but their experiences were alike in this: they were beloved by women. Behind him Burns left a train of weeping women—a trail of broken hearts. And I can never think of him except as a mere youth—”Bobby Burns”—one who never came into man’s estate. In all his love-making he never seemed really to benefit any woman, nor did he avail himself of the many mental and spiritual excellencies of woman’s nature, absorbing them into his own. He only played a devil’s tattoo upon her emotions.
If Burns knew anything of the beauty and inspiration of a high and holy friendship between a thinking man and a thinking woman, with mutual aims, ideals and ambitions, he never disclosed it. The love of a man for a maid, or a maid for a man, can never last, unless these two mutually love a third something. Then, as they are traveling the same way, they may move forward hand in hand, mutually sustained. The marriage of the mind is the only compact that endures. I love you because you love the things that I love. That man alone is great who utilizes the blessings that God provides; and of these blessings no gift equals the gentle, trusting companionship of a good woman.