To be entirely alone with them, to find how much one can stand!
To look strife, torture, prison, popular odium, face to face!
To mount the scaffold, to advance to the muzzles of guns with perfect nonchalance.
The key-note of all success in life and honor in death is contained in Arrian's farewell salutation to Lucius Gellius, "Be strong." It is the key-note of "life" itself, for life in the only true sense, viz., the spiritual, can only be possessed by the frankly fearless. This teaching is the distinguishing feature of all inspiring literature, both ancient and modern.
In seeking to live the true life, we must first eliminate all factors within which hinder our development, and this element of fear is in striking predominance. Until we can say with St. Paul, "I can be master under any circumstances," we have not found the true path which leads to life everlasting.
Fear is a malady. During an attack of fear we place ourselves in a receptive condition for the inroad of the germs of mental and spiritual decay. The fear of the child is a natural failing, which time and gentle training must conquer, and before maturity be reached this element should be completely obliterated from his character, in order that he may dominate himself and condition his environment.
Fear is irreligion—a lack of trust—which delays the evolution of our race. Fear cramps, maims, hinders all our efforts, and causes the foundations of all our actions to tremble. Nothing reaches completion because we are fearful. Fear tied the people's tongues, and cramped their brains for centuries—fear of the priests, death, hell, public opinion, loss of prestige. Fear causes us to be silent when we know it is right to speak and send out our little, electrical, kindling spark of assistance to our fellowmen: it binds us to work which is distasteful to us, to people who are not ours by right of mental kinship, to hollow, soul-killing, artificial, aimless lives, which we know to be a snare, a sham, and a delusion. We will not risk; we will not give up a quill in order that we may gain a whole kingdom of gold. For that which we give we must give blindly, not knowing where or how gods or men, we or others, shall reap that which we have sown. In order to gain we must first renounce. We cannot climb the hill and stay at the base at the same time: the effort is the reward which purifies and crystallizes our natures, and brings them into closer contact with the divine.
Fear is, in truth, "the dungeon of the mind," which cramps and fetters and mortifies the soul, and causes man to become lower than a man, and little better than the beast which perisheth. It has its root in ignorance, and its trunk in the tainted air of self-pleasure, self-deceit, and indolence. As knowledge approaches, so fear recedes. Let the light of knowledge come to fan our souls into being.
To be fearless is to be free—to be emancipated from all encumbrances to advancement. If we are to keep ourselves "clean and sweet in the midst of the crowd," we must gird ourselves with the armor of courage, and clench in our hands the weapons of self-reliance and self-control. To enter the crowd with timidity, with nerves unstrung, and hearts which are fainting, is to fail; to go with courage breathing within, toning and tuning our brains, beautifying our countenance, and vivifying our souls, is to succeed. Success always accompanies the brave—it can do no other.
Be bold, be bold. Be not too bold,
But better the excess than the defect.
—Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Failure always comes to the weak, nay, failure is weakness, as strength is courage, and courage is divine.
Troubles, dangers, and disasters come to most people, but we are not children to be frightened at the dark, at the tall trees by the sides of the dreary lane, by the ghosts which inhabit dilapidated houses, by the geese which run at us with extended jaws. Let us gird ourselves for the battle, being sure, that in the girding the specters dwindle, and in the fighting they will completely vanish. Let the rays of reason from within shine through and lighten the darkness of our minds. Let us face life without flinching, being the rulers of our own lives, masters of our own barks. And, if the bark drifts, by inadvertence on the underlying reefs and springs a leak, let us mend it without hesitation. Every trouble which we overcome is our well-doer. Though the lion in the jungle may roar, the jackal laugh in our throats, the torrent gush with their dark, deadly poisonous waters, the furies of the mind dance with low mocking laughter—none of these things can have power over us to injure us if we ourselves be pure.
Because my heart is pure.
—From Sir Galahad by Alfred Tennyson
Therefore let us face the ghosts with a valiant heart and smiling lips, and in Robert Browning's words:
Which turns earth's surface rough,
Which bids not sit, nor stand, but go;
Be our joys three parts pain,
Strive and hold cheap the gain
We fall to rise again,
Are baffled to fight better, sleep to wake.
—From Rabbi Ben Ezra by Robert Browning
Let us be assured of this, that the one who has never had to fight has not tasted the sweets of life, that whilst he has lain asleep on the soft checkered lawns, with the daisies nestling round his head, and the spreading oak above, the gods have visited the earth and spoken to the children of men, gliding to and fro and touching all those who loved and welcomed them,—and—he has not seen—has not heard. Such a one knows nothing of the intense joy which is a sequel to self- conquest—the joy which comes after fighting for the cause which is believed to be the true one, and which causes one to be scoffed, slighted, and jeered at by mean, ignoble men. To meet dangers face to face undaunted, to strain every fiber of one's body and mind, to crush the wild beast to one's heart in utter regardlessness of fear, and to laugh in the face of the enemy!
If we advance to meet the enemy with an indomitable belief in our own power, and an invincible courage, which can only spring from the divine, in-dwelling spirit of the All-Pervading, the danger will dissolve before the attack.
Instead of anchoring our crafts amongst the reeds by the shore in the shadow, let us cast out into the light and glide o'er the glittering, restful, loving waves, where we may feel the balmy breezes and gentle dews of heaven touching our cheeks, like the breath of the goddess of beauty; where thoughts drop around us of such intense charm and beauty that we quiver at the divinity within: where the moon and the stars drown us with their glory and are no longer external to us, but have grown to be part of our souls. Was it not Christ who wrote, "Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?"
When in the midst of danger, what reasonable cause is there for fear? Reason tells us that the danger exists whether we face it or whether we quail; we cannot help ourselves or others with fear: we can with courage.
And why fear loss to limb or life? Death is transition. When the butterfly is formed and the use of the cocoon is ended, the latter is cast off. When the spirit has finished with the body, and the tangible something is no longer required in order to carry on the work, it will be cast aside and the spirit will be free to mount heavenward. Evolution follows evolution.
If we are to die, let us die without whining, or reviling the gods. Even the animals die bravely; and if our lives have been spent in lightening the loads of our fellows, in brightening with the sunshine and the flowers of our presence their paths up the rocky ascent of life, if we have obeyed the great and only commandment of charity to all men, then when this transition period comes, when the body is to dissolve into Nature, shall we calmly and reverently place our hands in those of the all-wise benefactor, Death, and murmur, "My life has been sweet, but my death shall be far sweeter."