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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
From ‘The Nation’
By Elisha Mulford (1833–1885)
The Nation is a Continuity

IT no more exists complete in a single period of time than does the race; it is not a momentary existence, as if defined in some circumstance. It is not composed of its present occupants alone, but it embraces those who are, and have been, and shall be. There is in it the continuity of the generations; it reaches backward to the fathers and onward to the children, and its relation is manifest in its reverence for the one and its hope for the other.  1
  The evidence of this continuity is in the consciousness of a people. It appears in the apprehension of the nation as an inheritance received from the fathers, to be transmitted unimpaired to the children. This conviction, that has held the nation as a heritage worth living and worth dying for, has inspired the devotion and sacrifice of a people.  2
  The evidence of this continuity is also in the fact that the spirit of a people always contemplates it. The nation has never existed which placed a definite termination to its existence—a period when its order was to expire and the obligation to its law to cease. It cannot anticipate a time when it shall be resolved into its elements, but contends with the intensity of life against every force which threatens dissolution. Those who have represented the State as a compact, have yet held it to be a perpetual one, in which the children are bound by the acts of their fathers.  3
  This continuity is the condition of the existence of the nation in history. The nation persists through a form of outward circumstance. Judea was the same under the judges and under the kings; Rome was the same under the kings and under the consuls. The elements of the being of the nation subsist in this continuity. In it, also, the products of human effort are conserved, and the law of human production conforms to it. The best attainments pass slowly from their germ to their perfectness, as in the growth of the language and the law, the arts and the literature of a people. Chaucer and Spenser, through intervals of slow advance, precede Shakespeare, as Giotto and Perugino lead the way to Michael Angelo and Raphael.  4
  The nation is a continuity, as also in itself the product of succeeding generations. It transcends the achievement of a single individual or a separate age. The life of the individual is not its measure. In its fruition there is the work of the generations; and even in the moments of its existence, the expression of their spirit,—the blending of the strength of youth, the resolve of manhood, and the experience of age—the hope and the inspiration of the one, the wisdom and repose of the other. There is the spirit which is always young, and yet always full of years; and even in its physical course the correspondence to an always renewed life.  5
  This continuity has found expression in the highest political thought. Shakespeare has it in his historical plays: the continuity of the nation is represented as existing through the years with the vicissitudes of the people, in the changes of scene, with the coming and going of men; and there is, as in the nation, the unity of the drama in which so many actors move, and whose events revolve from age to age; and thus these plays hold an attraction apart from the separate scenes and figures which present some isolated ideal for the poet to shape. Burke has represented this continuity in the nation as moving through generations, in a life which no speculative schemes and no legal formulas may compass: “The nation is indeed a partnership, but a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born.”  6
The Nation the Realization of Freedom

  THERE is always a tendency in those withdrawn from the battle, and its “confused noise and garments rolled in blood,” to bear its issues into some ideal and abstract sphere. Thus the war is represented as the immediate conflict of the antagonistic ideas, freedom and slavery. The reality is other than this: the hosts are mustered in no intellectual arena, and the forces called into its field are other than spectral ideas. This tendency to resolve history into the conflict and progress of abstract ideas, or the development of what is called an intellectual conception, can apprehend nothing of the real passion of history. It knows not what, with so deep significance, is called the burden of history. It enters not into the travail of time, it discerns not the presence of a living Person in the judgments which are the crises of the world. It comprehends only some intellectual conflict in the issue of necessary laws, but not the strife of a living humanity. The process of a legal formula, the evolution of a logical sequence, the supremacy of abstract ideas,—this has nothing to compensate for the agony and the suffering and the sacrifice of the actual battle, and it discerns not the real glory of the deliverance of humanity, the real triumph borne through but over death. There was in the war, in the issue which came upon us, “even upon us,” and in the sacrifice of those who were called, the battle of the nation for its very being; and it was the nation which met slavery in mortal strife. The inevitable conflict was of slavery with the life of the nation.
  There is no vague rhetoric, but a deep truth, in the words “Liberty and union, now and forever, one and inseparable.” They are worthy to live upon the lips of the people, for there can be no union without freedom, since slavery has its necessary result in the dissolution of the being of the nation; and there can be no freedom without union, for it is only in the being of the nation that freedom becomes real.  8
The People and the Land

  BUT in the existence of the nation, which is the substance of civilization, there is a power higher than the necessary process of the physical world. It exists in the order of the moral world. This cannot be determined by physical elements. The history of the world cannot be deduced from its geography. In the political course of the nation the land is a necessary element, but it is not the creative nor the controlling element. The future of the nation will not be concluded by its relative nearness to the equator. The nation exists historically in the realization of the freedom of man, and his consequent dominion over nature. Mr. Buckle, when he stood in Judea, avowed that his only interest was in the agriculture of the country: but the soil is the same upon which a people lived who stood in the continuity of a nation, which long captivity in strange lands and under strange skies did not destroy, whose unity was lost in the grandeur of no imperialism, and whose lines of kings and prophets looked to the coming of One in whom was the hope of humanity; but the physical process of nature does not renew that life. The mountains of Attica are the same upon which the Parthenon was built, and their quarries the same which furnished marble for the sculpture of Athene, and the windy plains are the same upon which an army was mustered at Marathon, and the sea is the same whose waves were parted by their ships at Salamis; but the conflict which in its moral interest made these names immortal, has closed.

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