is not the safety of moderation but its beauty and power
that make it so excellent and so desirable a virtue. A
controlled and regulated force is an agent that may make
for usefulness, for good, for happiness; an uncontrolled
force can be nothing but a menace.
At first glance we are apt to
think somewhat slightingly of moderation. The good even
seem somewhat tame and uninteresting in comparison with
their more reckless and less responsible fellows. We are
abashed at the presence of evil; we are horrified and
confused that it should prevail; and yet we cannot altogether
restrain a lingering tinge of admiration for its forceful
procedure. We perceive that it does not restrain itself;
that [Page 283] it demands and often
secures free play for its energies; its exhibition of
efficient and capable power dazzles us. We are put out
of conceit with respectability, and become half convinced
that the bad is not half so bad, after all. We are ready
to sneer at moderation.
But we make a mistake here, we
mistake a supine and cowardly respectability for goodness.
Now, respectability, mere respectability, is not goodness
at all; it is only another form of weakness. The person
who takes refuge among the respectable, without any further
attempt to do actual good, to be actively good, is nothing
but a poltroon, afraid to follow his bent. He will probably
go to a worse place than is prepared for many a transgressor.
respectability is not moderation; it is stagnation. There
is no virtue in respectability, for virtue is an active
principle, and the essence of respectability is dull,
stupid, selfish, timid inaction. If you are good you may
be respectable; but if you set for yourself no standard
beyond the negative blamelessness [Page 284] of
being respectable you are on the highway to perdition.
It is not goodness that fills your soul, but lethargy.
You shudder at the criminal classes; you lull yourself
with a cushioned chromo-Christianity, but your own spiritual
and intellectual and material life is in itself a crime.
You are an incumbrance to society, to say the least.
is a very different thing. It is the conservation of power.
It is the saving grace which sweetens conduct. It makes
virtue pleasant and kindly; it makes beauty to be of effect
in the world; it makes reason prevail. Moderation is the
wisdom which never quite exhausts its reservoirs of power;
which never permits depletion, and is, therefore, never
exhausted. It always has forces in reserve, and so triples
the impression made by the forces it has in use. Moderation
is not a penurious aversion to expenditure; it is a sane
and strong disposition of power. It means control and
logic of extremes is notoriously uncertain [Page
285]; the beauty of extremes is even more doubtful.
Note that in extremes you have energy enough to waste,
spending itself in its last expiring effort. But beauty
must always embody power and reserve. There is no beauty
in exaggeration and overemphasis, nor in the weakness
of imperfection. Beauty in sculpture, for instance, resides
in the consummate moment; beauty in painting, in the balance
of hues. In everything beautiful, I think, one has the
sense of exquisite moderation, a sense of poise, of expectancy,
of reservation, as well as of satisfaction. One feels
whether in music or poetry, whether in art or life, in
contemplating beauty, that here the great spiritual force
of the universe was brought into play and arrested for
a moment in mid career. There is no strain, but only strength.
As perfect and competent strength cannot know strain,
so perfect beauty cannot know intemperance nor overstatement.
Haste, anger, bigotry, sloth, all these destroy beauty,
because they destroy moderation. They make [Page
286] beauty in art and beauty in daily life alike
impossible, for that one reason. They prevent us from
living centrally and normally; they unhinge our poise;
they cloud the mind, hamper the body, and make the spirit
unhappy; they take away from us those rare moments of
calm contentment, when the human soul stands on the brink
of exaltation, half-way between hope and despair. They
rush us into one extreme or another, so that we cannot
come into full contact with the powers of the universe.
They make us too emphatically our single selves, –
petty, wilful, and unwise. They drive us to extremes.
If I were a wave, I should belong most completely to the
great surrounding sea, when I was at mid height between
crest and trough. So my own human life is most nearly
in accord with the greater life which, it seems, must
infuse the universe, not when I am carried beyond the
bounds of moderation, but I am at poise, a normal, undistracted
idea is easily illustrated in many ways [Page
287]. You may see many arts injured by lack of
moderation. We build a large opera house, for example,
not content with a moderate size. What is the result?
The singers must strain their voices to the limit, so
that shading and all delicacy of interpretation are lost.
So, too, in human speech. How much more convincing our
conversation would be, if it were more moderate, –
more moderate in its diction, its vocabulary, its tones,
its inflections. Speech is a means of expression and may
be beautiful, comprehensive, full of delight and power.
Too often we permit it to become either a mumble or a
shriek. We exaggerate and emphasize and insist, until
all is truth is lost and all power of conviction destroyed.
Our personal expression becomes palpably false, frayed
and worn thin by overstress. This is true of all physical
habit; we rush and hurry, or we slouch and dawdle, regardless
of the fact that by so doing we lose all spontaneity,
all magnetism, all power which inherently belongs in beauty
of motion [Page 288].