The bravest deed, which for the most part is left quite out of history, — which alone wants the staleness of a deed done, and the uncertainty of a deed doing, — is the life of a great man. To perform exploits is to be temporarily bold, as becomes a courage that ebbs and flows, — the soul, quite vanquished by its own deed, subsiding into indifference and cowardice; but the exploit of a brave life consists in its momentary completeness.
Every stroke of the chisel must enter our own flesh and bone; he is a mere idolater and apprentice to art who suffers it to grate dully on marble. For the true art is not merely a sublime consolation and holiday labor, which the gods have given to sickly mortals; but such a masterpiece as you may imagine a dweller on the tablelands of central Asia might produce, with threescore and ten years for canvas, and the faculties of a man for tools, — a human life; wherein you might hope to discover more than the freshness of Guido’s Aurora, or the mild light of Titian’s landscapes, — no bald imitation nor even rival of Nature, but rather the restored original of which she is the reflection. For such a masterpiece as this, whole galleries of Greece and Italy are a mere mixing of colors and preparatory quarrying of marble.
Of such sort, then, be our crusade, — which, while it inclines chiefly to the hearty good will and activity of war, rather than the insincerity and sloth of peace, will set an example to both of calmness and energy; — as unconcerned for victory as careless of defeat, — not seeking to lengthen our term of service, nor to cut it short by a reprieve, — but earnestly applying ourselves to the campaign before us. Nor let our warfare be a boorish and uncourteous one, but a higher courtesy attend its higher chivalry, — though not to the slackening of its tougher duties and severer discipline. That so our camp may be a palæstra, wherein the dormant energies and affections of men may tug and wrestle, not to their discomfiture, but to their mutual exercise and development.
What were Godfrey and Gonsalvo unless we breathed a life into them8 and enacted their exploits as a prelude to our own? The Past is the canvas on which our idea is painted, — the dim prospectus of our future field. We are dreaming of what we are to do. Methinks I hear the clarion sound, and clang of corselet and buckler, from many a silent hamlet of the soul. The signal gun has long since sounded, and we are not yet on our posts. Let us make such haste as the morning, and such delay as the evening.