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Harvard Classics Volume 28

His chief vocation is to Think


of soul, this is to be desired for the laborer as for every human being; and what does this mean? The phrase, I am aware, is vague, and often serves for mere declamation. Let me strive to convey some precise ideas of it; and in doing this, I can use no language which will save the hearer from the necessity of thought. The subject is a spiritual one. It carries us into the depths of our own nature, and I can say nothing about it worth saying, without tasking your powers of attention, without demanding some mental toil. I know that these lectures are meant for entertainment rather than mental labor; but, as I have told you, I have great faith in labor, and I feel that I cannot be more useful than in exciting the hearer to some vigorous action of mind.

Elevation of soul, in what does this consist? Without aiming at philosophical exactness, I shall convey a sufficiently precise idea of it, by saying that it consists, first, in force of thought exerted for the acquisition of truth; secondly, in force of pure and generous feeling; thirdly, in force of moral purpose. Each of these topics needs a lecture for its development. I must confine myself to the first; from which, however, you may learn in a measure my views of the other two.--Before entering on this topic, let me offer one preliminary remark. To every man who would rise in dignity as a man, be he rich or poor, ignorant or instructed, there is one essential condition, one effort, one

purpose, without which not a step can be taken. He must resolutely purpose and labor to free himself from whatever he knows to be wrong in his motives and life. He who habitually allows himself in any known crime or wrong-doing, effectually bars his progress towards a higher intellectual and moral life. On this point every man should deal honestly with himself. If he will not listen to his conscience, rebuking him for violations of plain duty, let him not dream of self-elevation. The foundation is wanting. He will build, if at all, in sand.

I now proceed to my main subject. I have said that the elevation of a man is to be sought, or rather consists, first, in force of thought exerted for the acquisition of truth; and to this I ask your serious attention. Thought, thought, is the fundamental distinction of mind, and the great work of life. All that a man does outwardly is but the expression and completion of his inward thought. To work effectually, he must think clearly. To act nobly, he must think nobly. Intellectual force is a principal element of the soul's life, and should be proposed by every man as a principal end of his being. It is common to distinguish between the intellect and the conscience, between the power of thought and virtue, and to say that virtuous action is worth more than strong thinking. But we mutilate our nature by thus drawing lines between actions or energies of the soul, which are intimately, indissolubly bound together. The head and the heart are not more vitally connected than thought and virtue. Does not conscience include, as a part of itself, the noblest action of the intellect or reason? Do we not degrade it by making it a mere feeling? Is it not something more? Is it not a wise discernment of the right, the holy, the good? Take away thought from virtue, and what remains worthy of a man? Is not high virtue more than blind instinct? Is it not founded on, and does it not include clear, bright perceptions of what is lovely and grand in character and action? Without power of thought, what we call conscientiousness, or a desire to do right, shoots out into illusion, exaggeration, pernicious excess. The most cruel deeds on earth have been perpetrated in the name of conscience. Men have hated and murdered one another from a sense of duty. The worst frauds have taken the name of pious. Thought, intelligence, is the dignity of a man, and no man is rising but in proportion as he is learning to think clearly and forcibly, or directing the energy of his mind to the acquisition of truth. Every man, in whatsoever condition, is to be a student. No matter what other vocation he may have, his chief vocation is to Think.

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