The Treasure of the Widow’s Son

(unpublished manuscript, n.d., ca. 1960)

Editor’s note—at least three conflicting dates have been assigned to this piece—1948 (by Peggy Adamson, Jack’s wife; 1960—my guess; and ca. 1970, by John Brooke in The Refiner’s Fire (1996). An original draft was likely written as early as 1948.  Because the current version cites a book published in 1958, however, this draft is later.  There is nothing to indicate, however, that Jack revisited this ms. as late as 1970, by which time it had been in underground circulation for some time, and so the later date is almost certainly incorrect. 

In the early 19th century the small town of Manchester, New York, lay in an area which, because of the peculiarly intense and long-continued response of its inhabitants to the fiery spirit of God, came to be called the “burned-over district.”[1]  In that town, on September 21, 1823, while the flame was burning fiercely, a shining angel, dressed in a radiantly white robe, descended through the shingled roof of a small frame house and into the bedroom of an eighteen-year-old boy named Joseph Smith.  The angel told the boy that lying buried in a nearby hill, later to be known as the Hill Cumorah, was a treasure consisting of some gold plates, a breastplate and two sacred stones.  The plates, according to the angel, contained a history of some ancient Hebrew inhabitants
of the American continent; the latter two objects were none other than the Urim and Thummim and the breastplate of the high priest of ancient lsrael.[2]

On the following day, the awe struck boy related this vision to his family, all of whom “were melted to tears and believed all he said.”[3]  Perhaps nothing is more puzzling to the readers of the Mormon story than this absence of surprise in the Smith family and their neighbors, many of whom talked and acted as if it were quite to be expected that sacred objects from pre-prophetic Israel should turn up in a drumlin (a hill formed by a glacial drift) in the state of New York.  The principal reasons for such equanimity, perhaps, lie in the fact that such experiences were quite common in the burned-over area.  Too, there was a widespread popular belief that the American Indian represented a genuine, if degenerate, remnant of the lost tribes of lsrael.[4]  It was, therefore, to be expected that sooner or later a history of these people would be found. But there is other reason, I believe for the air of familiarity which accompanied Joseph’s announcement and his family’s acceptance of it, namely the rapid and uncontrolled spread of Masonry and Masonic lore in the early 19th century.[5]  This remarkable, oft-disseminated lore had made people aware of the story of a sacred treasure, the treasure of the widow’s son, buried in a sacred hill. [6]  The story of the treasure was circulating at least as early as 1802,[7] and it embodied the kind of material that could be expected to appeal to those who were reared in the peculiar environment of the burned-over district.

The ultimate sources of the story of the buried treasure are quite ancient; some of them are central to Jewish Cabbalistic lore.  To understand the story, one needs first to know the Cabbalistic background and context.

Cabbalistic legends tell of the mystical significance of the name of Deity, a name composed of four Hebrew letters, two symbolizing the upper world and two the lower.  The Zohar tells us that once, in a cosmic ritual, the two letters from the lower world
moved upward and the two letters from the upper world moved downward; when joined
together, they formed the tetragrammaton.  With the Holy Name complete, the Shekinah, or Holy Presence, was able to dwell on earth among men. Solomon’s temple was to become his first earthly dwelling. [8]

But we are pursuing legends of a time before Solomon which center around a shadowy Biblical figure known as Enoch, son of Jared.  This preoccupation with Enoch perhaps reflects his mystically significant position, number seven, in the line of patriarchs from Adam.  It is to one of these legends of Enoch, son of Jared, that we turn for the story of the sacred treasure in the sacred hill.  It is a legend that passed over from Cabbalistic lore into Masonic legend.[9]

Enoch was taken in vision to the hill of Moriah.  Standing on the hill, in the vision, he saw a cavern below him within which, brilliantly shining, was a gold plate, curiously engraved.  Many symbols were to be seen on the plate; for example, the letter “M” designated the name of the hill.  But by far the most important engraving was that of the letters in the true and ineffable name of God through which the universe was integrated and preserved.[10] As the vision continued, Enoch, son of Jared, saw that a flood would destroy mankind; it was, he perceived, his duty to provide a refuge for the holy name.  He therefore placed a stone door over the cavern in which the gold plate was hidden, and above the door he placed two pillars.  The first pillar was of marble, an enduring substance which men, from the beginning, have chosen for their monuments to be pitted against forgetfulness and decay.  On this marble was engraved in Egyptian hieroglyphics the story of the treasure.  The second pillar was of brass and on top of it
Enoch placed a metal ball, hollowed out so that it could float and thus survive the flood.  Carved on this ball were maps of the world and of the universe.[11] The ball also possessed the mystical quality of being an invaluable instrument “for improving the mind and giving it the most distinct idea of any problem or proposition.”[12]  Finally the lore contained a hint that some day an lsraelitish descendant would find the treasure. [13]

The ages spun themselves out.  Man fouled the earth and God, in anger, cleansed his creation by a flood that destroyed all living things except for the small remnant of seed, divinely selected spermatikoi, that bobbed along safely in the ark. But the treasure, as we shall see, safely withstood the flood.

When Solomon decided to build a house in which the Divine Presence could dwell permanently among the people of the holy nation, he chose as a site for the temple the Hill of Moriah, partly because Father Abraham had taken his son Isaac there, along with the knife and the faggots, instruments of a deed through which his faith was to
shine down to all ages. But, even more, the hill Moriah was the exact center of the
earth; it was the navel of the world’s body, although Greek poets pretended that the navel of the earth was in the rocky chasm at Delphi.  On this Mount Moriah, then, was to be built the temple of Solomon, a mystical microcosm, an exact analogue of the heavenly kingdom. [14]  And it was here, while excavating for the foundation of the temple, that some Master Masons discovered the long buried treasure and the gold plate.  Twice they tried to reach the treasure and failed, but on the third attempt they obtained it. [15]  Now with the tetragrammaton in their possession, the transformation of the earth into a paradisiacal society seemed only a matter of moments.

At this critical juncture, three evil men intervened. They committed an “enormous” crime.  This crime was nothing less than the attempt to force the Master of all Masons, Hiram Abiff, or Hiram the widow’s son, [16]to reveal the hiding place of the gold plate.  But the stout Hiram resisted and whatever secrets he knew died with him.  As he was slain, he cried out, “O Lord my God, is there no help for the son of a widow?”[17] This cry of anguish became the secret Masonic distress call, a cry which could save a man’s life, it was said, among pirates, Turks, cruel savages, haughty Jews, Chinese or even Christians, if accompanied by the proper sign—both arms raised to the square.  Even if one went into the remotest areas of the earth he could find, as did the men in one of Kipling’s stories, the signs, secrets and obedient devotees of Masonry.[18]

Three loyal Masons pursued the evil ones.  One of the former came across the arch-villain asleep in a dark cavern with his poniard lying conveniently near.  The Masons seized this providential opportunity, slew the villain with his own villainous knife, and severed the head from the trunk.[19]

Anti-Masonic writers insist that this story was embodied in one of the degrees of Masonic ritual in which the candidate was symbolically threatened and able to save his life only by promising that he would revenge the death of the father of Masonry.  The candidate was then symbolically shown into a dark cavern and told to strike all who opposed him:  “’Strike off his head,’ the voice repeats, and the head of the corpse is lying at his feet.”[20]

It has been further alleged that in Revolutionary France, the tyrant in the cavern became the surrogate for the king of France and that the name of King Phillipe Le Bel was actually used. [21]  A. E. Waite, himself a Mason and certainly the most authentic scholar who has written on the subject, says that it is unquestionably true that at one period the candidates were required to trample on a crown and tiara (symbol of King and Pope).  That the formal execution of Le Bel, Clement V, and a traitor named Noeffedi was symbolically carried out in Masonic ritual, he mentions as an accusation without affirming or denying it.[22]

In any case, the loyal Mason, the revenger of the death of Hiram the widows son, was rewarded by King Solomon with a great reward and the treasure became part of the collection of sacred objects in the temple: the gold plate, the breastplate of the high priest of Israel and the Urim and Thummim.  Later, when Solomon’s temple was destroyed, the Shekinah, somewhat like the Greek Astrea, fled to the heavens, leaving the lower world severed from the upper.  I have been unable to discover what happened to the treasure itself.  I presume, therefore, that it still lies hidden in the sacred hill of Moriah, awaiting a descendant of Enoch to find it and again unite the upper world with the lower, the eternal forms with the earthly shadows.

Such is the story, a piece of lore which perpetuates the esoteric and mystical beliefs of a neo-Platonic Cabbalism.  And the lore lends itself to many levels of interpretation.  Masons who haven’t the faintest belief in this story as actual history nevertheless find it to be a significant part of a profound religious allegory.[23]

But more important, at least for the history of the United States, is the fact that almost every element of the legend seems to have an analogue of some kind in the history of Joseph Smith or in the scriptures he produced.  To trace those analogues is to discover again, although transformed, in varying degrees, the ancient lore of the treasure of the widow’s son.

Enoch, son of Jared, does figure, although not prominently, in the Mormon history and scripture. In the Book of Moses, chapter 7, Enoch, speaking in his own person, says that he went up into the Mount of Simeon where, in a vision, he saw the future, including the coming flood. Inasmuch as there is no hint of this event in the Bible, the similarity of this account to Masonic lore seems apparent. Further, Joseph Smith frequently identified himself with Enoch. Section 78 of the Doctrine and Covenants reads, “Revelation given to Enoch (Joseph Smith, Jun.)   Inasmuch as this is an official edition, the material in brackets has official sanction.  It is an accepted identification.  In verses 1 and 4 of the same revelation, Joseph is again referred to as Enoch. A similar identification occurs in Sections 92, 96 and 104. Section 107, in which Joseph Smith recounts the ages at which the various Biblical patriarchs were given the “Melchizedek Priesthood,: is perhaps relevant also.  Seth was 69, Enos 134, Cainan 87, Mahalaleel 496, Jared 200, Enoch 25, Methuselah 100, Lamech 32, and Noah 10.  To those acquainted with Mormon history, one age stands out from the others: that of
Enoch.   For Joseph Smith was also 25 years of age in 1830, the year in which he founded the Church, published the Book of Mormon and himself, apparently, received the same “Melchizedek Priesthood” at the hands of heavenly messengers.[24]

But Enoch, son of Jared, remains on the periphery of Mormon history and writings.  Far more significant is a non-Biblical character known only as ‘the brother of Jared.”  In the Book of Mormon we are told that this man was present at that hybristic enterprise, the building of the tower of Babel.  Being a faithful man, however, he was warned of the Lord to flee iniquity and did so, leading a small band out into the desert to a place called Moriancumer. [25]  This strange word actually seems to be a compound
of two words: “Moriah,” the sacred hill where the old Enoch hid his gold plate, and “Cumorah,” the sacred hill where the new Enoch found his gold plates.  This word thus united the two sacred hills, one in old Jerusalem and the other in the new Zion.

The brother of Jared, upon arriving at Moriancumer, was commanded by the Lord to go up into a mount where he too was given a vision of the future: he was further told to write down the content of the vision but to seal up the writing so that it could not be read.  He was instructed to include with the writing “two stones” by means of which
some future tender of the record might be able to translate it. [26]  Section 17 of the Doctrine and Covenants is more explicit. There we are told that the brother of Jared, “on the mount, was given the Urim and Thummim and the breastplate. He was also given the sword of Laban and the ‘miraculous directors.”  These latter two objects will be discussed later.

The brother of Jared, then, according to the narrative, sailed to America with a
sacred treasure consisting of metal plates, the Urim and Thummim and the breastplate.  Ultimately those treasures were buried by a “Nephite” named Mormon in the hill Ramah which, we are told in an official footnote, is another name for the Hill Cumorah.[27]

Thus the Mormon scriptures tell us how the sacred treasures arrived in the New World.  There for many centuries they lay buried in a sacred hill awaiting the new Enoch. And, at the appointed hour, the new Enoch appeared.

Joseph Smith, like his ancient counterpart, first saw the sacred hill in a vision. “Owing to the distinctness of the vision which I had,” he writes, “I knew the place the instant I arrived there.”[28]  In this vision the angel had told him of the sacred treasures; when Joseph went to the hill he found these treasures underneath a stone and lying in a stone box.

The parallelism is further carried out in that, like the Master Masons, he could not “obtain” the treasure immediately.  Rather, he returned to the hill once each year for three years and on the fourth year was allowed to take the treasure to his home.  Before he arrived at home he was, like Hiram Abiff, assailed three times, but unlike the unfortunate Hiram, he was able to knock down his assailants and keep the treasure safe.[29]

This part of the story can be briefly concluded. Once the Prophet Joseph was asked by an English convert to name a new-born child, and he gave it the surprising name of Mahonri Moriancumr.  He then told the surprised parents that he had just that moment discovered, through revelation, that this was the true name of the Brother of Jared. [30]  Obviously this name calls for analysis.

Psychiatrists sometimes use the word “clang’ to denote a tendency observable in
certain individuals under certain conditions to mask an intended word by using one
similar to it. Joseph Smith, apparently, sometimes used such “clang” words. For example, in the Book of Moses, written in 1830 at the height of the anti-Masonic agitation, we are told that Cain was called ‘Master Mahan” (5:31). In 1917, Prince, writing in the Journal of American Psychology, pointed out that this phrase was a transparent “clang” for Master Mason.  Similarly he said that Mahonri was “clang” for Masonry. [31]If we accept this postulate, and it seems obvious enough, then the name the Brother of Jared, divested of ‘clang,” is Masonry Moriah Cumorah.  Another sacred object in the Masonic lore, it will be remembered, was the mystical hollow sphere which stood atop Enoch’s brass pillar. This object, or one a good deal like it, appears in the Book of Mormon (1 Nephi, 4:12, 10)

And it came to pass that as my father arose in the morning and went forth to the tent door to his great astonishment he beheld upon the ground a round ball of curious workmanship; and it was of fine brass.  And within the ball were two spindles; and the one pointed the way whither we should go into the wilderness.

Not only was this ball capable of giving directions, but like the ball of Masonic lore, it could also impart ideas.  When the steel bows of the sons of Lehi lose their spring and Nephi breaks his bow, the little band faces starvation.  In this peril they pray mightily.

And it came to pass that the voice of the Lord said unto him, Look upon the ball and behold the things which are written.

And it came to pass that I, Nephi, beheld the pointers which
were in the ball, that they did work according to the faith, and diligence, and heed which we did give unto them.

And there was also written upon them, a new writing, which was plain to be read, which did give us understanding concerning the ways of the Lord, and it was written and changed from lime to time according to the faith and
which we gave unto it.

This metal ball was used as a compass to guide the second band of Israelites to the New World. The purpose of the sphere and its description may be compared with that given above from a Masonic source to the effect that the sphere gives the mind distinct ideas about problems and propositions.[32]

One treasure remains to be discussed: the sword of Laban.  The Book of Mormon opens with a scene in which a young man named Nephi is made out to be a hero for cutting off the head of a wicked king. The name of this evil king is Laban (clang for Le Bel?) who has in his possession some brass plates which he will not release to the righteous Nephi.  Rather, Laban threatens Nephi and his brothers who then depart.  At night, Nephi returns alone, finds the king lying on the ground, in the darkness, drunk, helpless and conveniently wearing a sword.  The spirit “constrains” the young Nephi to kill the king, but he cannot for he has been taught not to kill.

And the Spirit said unto me again: Slay him, for the Lord hath delivered him into thy hands,

Therefore I did obey the voice of the Spirit, and took Laban by the hair of the head, and smote off his head with his own
sword [1 Nephi, 4:12, 181.

Those who read the Book of Mormon as essentially an account of the inner life of Joseph Smith generally feel that Nephi is a surrogate for the Prophet himself.  One recalls the symbolic “dark cavern” of Masonic lore, the voice out of the darkness ordering “Cut off his head,” the neophyte’s slashing out at a wicked king named Le Bel, and shudders slightly to find the scene emerging out of the world of symbolic ritual to be narrated in the Book of Mormon as a historical account of a literal event.  Thus the opening scene of the Book of Mormon contains thematic elements from the parent lore:  an unrighteous king, the disputed possession of precious plates, and the
beheading of the villain with his own sword.

The strangest part of the story remains to be told.  So far we have seen aspects of the Masonic lore, transformed in whatever degree, emerging in the writings and history of Joseph Smith.  We have seen a kind of reshaping within his psyche of some of the legendary stories and traditional rituals of Masonry. But the final scene has a dual aspect:  it does indeed continue the symbolic acting out of Masonic lore – this time the death of the founder of Masonry — but in this event, symbol is not merely transformed into Joseph’s inner history or his sacred writings.  Rather, the action goes beyond metaphor and the symbol merges into a tragic reality.

Joseph surrendered voluntarily to officers of the law who promised him the protection of the law. However, he was placed in Carthage jail and handled in such a way that his enemies saw an open invitation to murder.  After an ugly mob had spent some time around the jailhouse, a few men detached themselves, rushed the jail and meeting no resistance, ran up the stairs and began firing through the door into the room where the prisoner and some of his friends were being held.

As a last desperate measure, in a noble if naïve gesture of belief in his brother Masons, Joseph ran to the window, stood in full view of the mob and raised both arms to the square.  Then, like Hiram Abiff, he cried out, “O Lord my God. . .”  He got no further.  Riddled by shot from a score of muskets, his body swayed for a moment and then plunged through the window to the ground below.[33] In Mormon country it is still said, sometimes, that there were Masonic rings on fingers that triggered some of the muskets.

If one drives to Palmyra, New York, any year in early August, he can view a pageant enacted from the top of the drumlin known as the Hill Cumorah.  On this hill is a monument erected in honor of the angel who first opened to the boy Joseph the vision of the treasure in the hill.  And if one asks any of the amiable missionaries at the Information Bureau there, he will be told, sometimes defensively, but generally with quiet pride, that lying buried somewhere in the sacred hill, the exact spot known only to God and his angels, is a stone box containing gold plates, the Urim and Thummim and the breastplate, the ancient treasures of the widow’s son.

*Editor’s note—at least three conflicting dates have been assigned to this piece—1948 (by Peggy Adamson, Jack’s wife; 1960—my guess; and ca. 1970, by John Brooke in The Refiner’s Fire (1996). An original draft may have been written as early as 1948.  Because the current version cites a book published in 1958, however, this draft is later.  There is nothing to indicate, however, that Jack revisited this ms. as late as 1970, by which time it had been in underground circulation for some time, and so the later date is almost certainly incorrect.


[1] See Whitney A. Cross, The Burned-Over District (Cornell University Press, 1950).

[2] B. H. Roberts, A Comprehensive History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City, 1936, Vol. 1, Cbs. 1-3. See also another work not to be confused with the above: History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ed. B. H. Roberts (Salt Lake City, 1902), Chs. 1-3. These are entirely distinct works and will be referred to hereafter as Comprehensive History and History of the Church respectively.

[3]William Mulder and A. R. Mortensen, eds. Among the Mormons (New York, 1958), p. 26. The quotation is from Joseph’s brother, William Smith.

[4] The book most commonly linked with the Mormon movement which propounds this
view is Ethan Smith, View of the Hebrews (Vermont, 1823).

[5] The Freemason’s Library (Baltimore, 1826), cited by Henry Dana Ward in Freemasonry (New York, 1828), listed 1293 lodges in the United States, It gave the names and addresses of 1182.  This figure is probably much smaller than the actual number of lodges.  For example, this report lists only 157 Masonic lodges in New York State.  But Report on the Abduction of William Morgan, made to the senate of New York State on February 14, 1829, stated that there were more than 500 lodges in the state with an average of 60 members per lodge.  This, it was estimated, was about one-ninth of the voting population of the state. (See James C. Odierne Opinions on Speculative Masonry (Boston, 1830), p. 198.  Theoretically any three Master Masons could start a new lodge without any formal approval from a parent body. The result was sometimes the kind of confusion spoken of by the Rev. Joshua Bradley: “In New England, Masonry has been in some degree systematized . . . but pass these States and a scene confusion, contradiction and discordant modes of work in lodges and chapters abounds.”  See Odiorne, Opinions, p. 40.  The soundest study of this movement is Charles Mccarthy, “The Anti-Masonic Party: A Study of Political Anti-Masonry in the United States, 1827-40,” published in the Annual Report of the American Historical Association, 1902.

[6] For the story of the treasure, I have relied chiefly on the pro-Masonic work, Thomas Webb’s Free-Mason’s Monitor (New York, 1802), and a work that borrows heavily
from it, the anti Masonic work of Henry Dana Ward. See footnote 5.

[7] The date of Webb’s book.

[8] The Zohar, trans. Harry Sperling and Maurice Simon (London, 1932), II, p. 111.

[9] Ibid., p. 112. Also Vol. III, 5, 28.  Cf A. E. Waite.  The Secret Tradition in Freemasonry, (London, 1911, I, 46 ff.

[10] 10 Waite, 1,181. CF. Ward, pp. 4,13.

[11]Ward, p. 69. Cf. Webb, p. 56. Webb states that there were two balls, one supported by each pillar, and that one was a celestial, the other a terrestrial globe.

[12]Webb, p. 56.

[13]Ward, p. 15.

[14]Waite, I, 81. See also Louis Ginsberg, Legends of the Jews (Jewish Publication
Society of America, 1909-39), 1, 12, 352; V, 14, 15.

[15] Ward, p. 18. Webb, pp. 252-53.

[16] The name appears only in II Chronicles 2:13. It is not known whether the name Huram ‘abhi means Hiram the widow’s son or whether it is simply part of the name.  The Revised Standard version translates it, “Buram-abi, the son of a woman of Dan.

[17] William Morgan, Freemasonry Exposed (Chicago, 1880), p. 76. This work was first printed in 1827 and led to the alleged murder of Morgan and a resultant nationwide furor.

[18] See Kipling’s short story, “The Man Who Would be King.” Cf. Ward, pp. 207-8 and Webb, p. 14.

[19]Ward, p. 291. Webb says that one of the Masonic aprons has represented on the “flap a bloody arm with a poinard (sic) and on the area, a bloody arm holding by the air a bloody head.” See pp. 236, 238.

[20] Ibid.

[21]Abbe Barruel, The Anti-Christian and Antisocial Conspiracy (Lancaster, Pa., 1812), pp. 111-14.  Le Bel is Masonry’s traditional enemy because he suppressed the Knights Templar and put Jacques DeMolay to death. Cf. Ward, pp. 306-7.

[22] I, 324-25.

[23] Morton Deutsch, in a work called From Whence Came You (New York, 1958), expresses surprise that the English Masonic historians believe the Hiramic legend to stem from the first quarter of the eighteenth century. He proceeds to attempt to establish the legend as genuine history. His efforts come to nothing.

[24] Comprehensive History, I, 183, states that the exact date of the restoration of the “greater priesthood” is unknown. “but beyond all doubt it was between the 15th of May, 1829, and the month of April, 1830.”

[25] See Book of Ether, Ch. 2. This is one of the books in the Book of Mormon.

[26]Ibid. 3:22-23.

[27]Ibid.. 15:11. Cf. Mormon 6:6 (Mormon is a book in the Book of Mormon).

[28]History of the Church, I, 15.

[29] Lucy Mack Smith, History of the Prophet Joseph, rev. ed. (Salt Lake City, 1902), p. 105. Mrs. Smith was the Prophet’s mother.

[30]“Questions and Answers,” Improvement Era. VIII :9 (July, 1905), pp. 704-5.

[31]Walter F. Prince, “Tests for the Authorship of the Book of Mormon,” American Journal of Psychology, XXVIII, July, 1917.

[32] See footnote 12 above.

[33] Comprehensive History, II, 286.

Foreword to “Letters of Brigham Young to His Sons” (1974)

Editor’s Introduction: In 1973, LDS church historian Leonard Arrington approached Jack Adamson about the possibility of writing an introduction to a collection of Brigham Young’s letters to his sons, which Dean C. Jessee was then preparing.  Surprisingly, perhaps even to himself, Jack agreed to do it.

The result is this splendid reflection on Brigham Young’s character and values as a leader.  According to conversation with the late historian Professor Frederick Buchanan, this piece is widely considered a classic of Mormon letters.  It is posted here with the permission of Dean C. Jessee.

This piece also introduces a theme to which these posts will return:  Jack Adamson’s complex and shifting relationship with the Mormon church.  Born and raised in the church, he served an LDS mission to Scotland in 1937-38.  He broke with the church intellectually and spiritually some time in the late 1940s; however, he remained a fascinated student of Mormon history and culture, and, at the time of his death, had been commissioned by Leonard Arrington to write a biography of Brigham Young (source:  Leonard Arrington, “Adventures of a Church Historian,” U. of Illinois Press, 1998, 196).  See also Arrington’s interview in “Dialogue,”

Sadly, Jack did not live to begin this task.  Arrington himself took it on, and produced the masterful American Moses. BrighamYoung’s Letters to His Sons (pdf)

The Great Soul


Reprinted from Journal of the Maharaja Sayajiro University of Baroda

Gandhi Centenary, Volume XVIII, No. 1 & 2, April & July 1969

The Great Soul

By Jack H. Adamson

There was a time when it was easier to be a great man, before the age of printing, before the disease of journalism that lives parasitically on the sensationalism in historical events and in the lives of history’s shapers. Once, when the great-souled died, they left no artifacts, only a tenuous memory among the folk which, tenderly reshaped by generations of story-tellers, finally found wings that lifted it above the world of human vanities , of concern with bowel and bladder, of domestic quarreling, of the petty surrenders and barnyard-cock tyrannizings of ordinary men. Then only a quintessence was left: the distilled attar of the soul’s greatness , and its sweet scent helped queasy men to live with their mortality.

Our human need to find something transcendent is as great ever, but now when a great man dies, by the peculiar nature of scholarly biography, our attention is directed to those mortalities, common to us all, which, when displayed in the life of the great soul, lend complacency to our own failures. Perhaps it is impossible for a nation ever again to provide itself with great souls. It may be that we must seek for them among other peoples where distance in space and strangeness of custom leave our imaginations free to simplify and to heighten.

No American can cease to be astonished at what has happened in India to the memory of John F. Kennedy. Everywhere there are theaters, scholarships, or statues erected to him; a certain aura even of saintliness envelops the man’s name and memory. John F. Kennedy a saint! One hardly knows whether to be astonished or pleased.

At Pilani, one evening at dinner, I witnessed with amusement an encounter between an amiable young Indian and two dignified and reserved Virginians, man and wife, not easily given to enthusiasms. The young Indian, seeking a safe conversational gambit, said something in the ecstatic vein about America’s late President. The husband and wife looked carefully at one another; their aloofness took on a touch of ice; the slightest hint of a mask settled over both their faces. The wife then looked away and, without emotion, said in her cultivated accent, “We ah not shuah about Mistuh Kennedy.” No Virginian is ever likely to be sure about a Boston Irishman.

And many young Indians are not sure about Mr. Gandhi. It took me a while to find that out. But when I first arrived in Delhi, if anyone had asked me what I first wished to see in all of India it would not have been the temples at Belur or Khajuraho, not the Taj Mahal or Ellora or Ajanta, not the white cliffs of Jabalpur or Jim Corbett National Park; not even the one sight on earth that actually outdoes the imagination, the Himalayas. No, I wished to see first the tomb of Gandhi, to make my pilgrimage and pay homage to a man whom I knew so little and honored so much. Therefore my first act of leisure was to drive along Delhi’s Ring Road to the Raj Ghat Bon the bank of the Jamuna. There I saw the stately yet unostentatious tomb with the words He Ram chiseled into its glistening ebony surface. I saw the marigolds, those ubiquitous tokens of affection, garlanding the Mahatma’s memory; I saw the pilgrims kneel to touch the cold tomb with their foreheads, and I did the same, experiencing a kind of levitation as I walked away. I had been lifted up, and that mood returned at intervals during the succeeding weeks.

But soon I learned that my euphoria did not come so easily to Indian intellectuals. My first shock came when a gentle Sikh said to me with just a little bitterness, “Gandhi said that his two missions in life were to save the cow and free the untouchable. Today in Gandhi’s own village a sweeper can’t go to the well, but the cow, as you see, has been saved.” At that time I did not know what the cow meant in India, that for Gandhi the protection of the cow symbolized ahimsā, the principle of harmlessness to all forms of life and that, even more, it stood for the maternal, enfolding, gentle feminine qualities of Indian religion and life that stand in such marked contrast to the sometimes arid masculinity of the West. And so that stricture seemed more severe to me then that it does now.

And soon I heard all the whispers about the young girls in the bedroom, the tragedy of the oldest son for which the father must bear some blame, Gandhi’s strange vanity in traveling third class even when given an entire car for his small party. And before long, all over Delhi, I saw the alleged hunger fasts going on for the most trivial and unworthy reasons. Ah! I thought, the unwitting harm that great men do.

But my greatest shock was yet to come. For the anniversary of Gandhi’s death, a peace march had been arranged. The marchers were to come past most of the colleges of the University of Delhi where their ranks would continually be swelled. Finally, on a large open field, an official of the university would lead the students in a pledge of non-violence.

I did not intend to participate. I have an aversion to political activism so strong as to be almost pathological. I dislike public speakers who smile too much; I often find even more offensive the self-righteousness of reforming liberals; I am repelled by “champions of the people” and consequently shun all public demonstrations. However, on this day I excused my Milton class early in order that those who wished might participate in the peace march. I thought that I would stand quietly and respectfully as the marchers passed. But then a strange thing happened. As my students entered the ranks, I was possessed, forcibly possessed by some power which appeared to be outside my own volition. Scarcely knowing what I was doing, I found myself walking along with the multitude, strangely ecstatic, eager to take the pledge of ahimsā.

Not everyone felt the same way. Along the route, a group of radical students had set up a loudspeaker through which, with all the rhetoric of violence, they were urging the marchers to participate in a university-wide strike on the following day. The incredibly bad taste of this counter-demonstration was, of course, wholly lost on zeal like theirs.

Nor was that all. I was astounded at how many around me refrained from taking the oath and later an Assamese student explained it. “They,” he said (meaning officialdom) “are using Gandhi. They think that by working us up emotionally, they may get us to take a vow we will feel obliged to keep even though violence may be the only solution to our problems.” I looked in astonishment at this decent, gentle boy.

And so this and many similar incidents caused me to wonder if my own inner experiences were the delusions of romantic sentiment, and I began to compare Gandhi’s experience with that of other reformers whose reputations were of the same magnitude as his own. From this comparison, certain conclusions emerged about the nature of Gandhi’s greatness.

First, one must acknowledge that Gandhi was a successful revolutionary. It is so much easier if one is not successful. I thought of the sentimentalized Tolstoy plodding along behind the plow while a nervous famulus followed along to take down for posterity whatever words might fall from sainted lips. I thought further of his impracticality, his complete unsuitability for wielding power, initiating programs, dealing with the shifting sands of human problems. What would happen to the sanitation, the transportation, the economy, the schools and civil service of even the smallest region managed by a Tolstoy?

And I thought of Shelley, that “ineffectual angel,” whose voice even today seems to be coming out of a cloud of idealized wish-fulfillment. He wrote fine tracts about England’s most difficult problem, what to do with Ireland; consequently he achieved a rather easy sainthood. It has never been difficult to point out the English mistakes in Ireland and yet a parade of England’s most notable public men made incredible botches of the actual situation. One after another, Sir Humphrey Gilbert, Sir Walter Raleigh, Lord Grey, Cromwell, Ireton and all the rest lost something of their reputation and more of their character in that lost land, and so the wise intellectual, following the method if not the intent of Immanuel Kant, would form a maxim according to which all men might act. “Always be an unsuccessful savior of mankind; then your reputation in later ages is assured.”

One can’t help feeling the same way about the Old Testament prophets, yes, and even that culminating figure, Jesus of Nazareth. How fine to appear in righteous wrath, to denounce the mistakes and follies of Israel’s kings; but how hard, even impossible to rule that stubborn breed, to bend them to any law, of man let alone God, to maintain even the most elementary rule of society, that men must be prevented from slaughtering one another. We must always ask what would happen to the moral fiber of the savior if he were to succeed and, in his own person, wield political power and be held accountable for flood, fire, pestilence and the stupidities and brutalities of his subjects. That way madness lies; it is nightmare to contemplate the pitfalls that Satan puts in the way of the successful revolutionary. It is better quietly to drink the hemlock, sleep through mankind’s strivings and be a hero forever.

And so in any comparison of Gandhi and other idealists of history, we must realize that he did succeed, that he wielded enormous power and became subject to all the temptations and corruptions that accompany such power.

It is instructive to consider the temptations that Milton envisions his Christ entertaining and rejecting if they were to be practiced upon the soul of Mahatma Gandhi. It is Belial, the sensual demon, who first proposes that Jesus be tempted with women, but Satan rejects this as scarcely worthy of consideration. And few would doubt the success of Gandhi’s lifelong and somewhat theatrical struggle against the flesh. It would go hard for woman’s need of love if his disciples should better him here.

We strike closer to human things when Satan offers Christ the opportunity to free his people from Roman servitude by force of arms. Milton was willing to allow Cromwell to free England, Ireland and Scotland by conquering them, but he would not allow his ideal of Christ the same easy way. Accordingly Milton’s Christ replies that when men are basely slaves to themselves, it is only fitting that they should also be slaves to outward power. Let them free themselves from themselves and political freedom would follow.

Neither Christ nor Gandhi, one feels, was much tempted by the lures of the world as most reformers have been. It is perhaps in England that reformers have been most cleverly seduced without loss of their self-esteem. The English offer ribbons, knighthoods, the pleasure that comes from intimate association with those in the seats of power, and the reformer finds soon that he has misjudged those wielders of the scepter, and that they are men of wit and women of beauty, urban, generous, rather to be preferred, on the whole, to his own clamoring followers, who reek of self-interest and impracticality.

Unlike Christ and Gandhi, most of the world’s saviors, once they have power, have been willing to use it, to turn the sword of oppression against the oppressor. With one or two exceptions, all of the Old Testament reformers would have done so as would most of history’s passionate Marxists. When this test is applied, we see how treacherously easy is the corruption of most seekers of social change. They do not, in their deepest selves, wish to be different from the oppressor; rather they wish to possess his power and his means to pursue their own “righteous” ends. We turn wearily away from moral pygmies.

The final significant corruption which Milton’s Satan offers Milton’s Christ is the temptation of being a learned man, of being world renowned as a poet, teacher, and sage. Christ’s rejection of this temptation is so excessively angry that one wonders if this perhaps was the temptation Milton himself could not really forego, that he always knew, really, that here Satan had him whenever it was worth the dark angel’s trouble. But this temptation was scarcely real for either the historical Jesus or for Gandhi.

It is between Gandhi and Milton himself that the more interesting comparison lies, for Milton, like Gandhi, was one of the world’s genuinely successful revolutionaries. Out of his mind came the words which, coupled with Cromwell’s sword, set a King’s head rolling and brought the Saints into political power. But once in power, how did the Puritan deliverer comport himself? If we were to follow him to his revolutionary triumph would we continue to follow him afterwards?

It might be difficult for many reasons, chief among them Milton’s treatment of his opponents, even the fallen ones whom he treats with contempt. We remember with some pain that Milton’s Christ treats Satan in precisely the same way. Evil, after all, has had its notable successes in the world, surely enough that any opponent might well treat it with a certain polite caution at least. But neither Milton nor his Christ treated his opponent so. When Milton first entered upon his career as polemicist, the bishops of the Anglican church were his opponents and poured invective on them; their motives were mercenary, their learning slight; they were spiritual tyrants, Goliaths of a new Philistinism from which Milton, the clear-eyed David, would deliver England by hurling words. We are surprised to find that one of these bishops is the gentle Launcelot Andrewes who was later to become T.S. Eliot’s historical example of humane and literate Anglicanism.

But as Milton’s enemies changed, his rhetoric and anger remained unchanged. He soon found the bishops unworthy of his scorn and attacked the Presbyterians, his erstwhile friends. Now the “new Presbyter” becomes “the Old Priest writ large.” But the final force of Milton’s invective was reserved for his Continental and royalist opponent, the Latin scholar Salmasius, who had denounced Milton, Cromwell and the other regicides for putting to death God’s anointed. It is with pain that an admirer of Milton the poet reads the barbaric words with which he announced to the world his triumph over Salmasius. Milton is greatful to God, he says, because he “obtained such a victory over [his] opponent that … [Salmasius] was obliged to quit the field with his courage broken and his reputation lost….”

But there is worse. Salmasius’ real offense, one quite honestly feels, is not that he attacked regicide, but that he attacked Milton’s Latin which, he said, was frequently faulty. This was the insult that Milton could not endure, and so while he and Salmasius ostensibly argued, before all Europe, the high themes of liberty and the state, each was secretly arguing his own superiority in Latin. It is said that angels, in contemplating the affairs of men, sometimes weep.

It is precisely in matters such as these that the life of Gandhiji is like clear shining after rain. Jesus, it is true, prayed that God would forgive his tormentors, but that is not quite as much as the Mahatma did. It is possible, while forgiving one’s enemies, to feel morally superior. It was the genius of Gandhiji that he could make his very enemies feel that they were his moral equals, and this he made it possible for them to concede when they were wrong. I can think of no other successful revolutionary in history who ever managed to do so.

When Gandhiji faced a judge, that judge came to realize that Gandhi was aware, given the ironies of history, that the prisoner might have been on the bench and the judge at the bar. The amazing thing is that there was no righteousness, no moral superiority in the communication of this fact. It was simple truth. Surely any man could see it.

When Gandhiji faced the industrialists, the Pathans, the angry Sikhs, the Moslems, always there was that generous communication which, to be successful, must be transmitted without words: I understand: if I were in your place, I would feel as you do. I consider it essential to your integrity that you should feel as you do. How could you feel otherwise and still be a man? It was all so objective, as though it were not Gandhiji but some third party to the issue, seeing it clearly and expressing it without emotion. And though few could voice it, somewhere within each adversary came the answering voice. Thank you, Mahatma for respecting me. I don’t really wish to hurt you or your cause. It is the circumstances, you see. And that was his simple greatness: the Mahatma really did see.

We are not merely men; some say we are part angel. But we certainly are also part animal. Somewhere under the rib cage, we feel the red tongue, the quick cunning feet, and we say to our angry, expendable saviors of the day, “I know it is wrong to hate, yet I must. Please justify me.” And the Miltons, the Lenins, the Tom Paines respond. They are generous men, for they take upon themselves the moral burden of our violence, leaving us free to indulge in it innocently. How much we owe them for that.

But the great soul of India said that he could not so dishonor us. If we wondered how deeply he meant it, there is one final test of political purity. What does one do when he comes to fee that the oppressed whom he has sought to relieve are themselves in danger of becoming oppressors? In political life the reformer commonly becomes rationalizer, desperately seeking justifications for for this turn of events. Surely generations of oppression and injustice justify the new oppressions and injustices. How right it is to be angry, how sensually delightful to luxuriate in the passion of moral righteousness. What is the pleasure of women compared to that?

In all if history I see one successful revolutionary who denied himself this luxury and that is India’s great soul. If he was willing to fast to the death at Ahmedabad against the industrialists, as perhaps a pure Marxist soul might have done, he was also prepared to fast to the death against the proletariat when they wished to destroy the instruments of production. If he was prepared to stand against the British for dividing his country, he was also prepared to stand against his fellow Hindu communalists who were dividing it in a different way. He could live without adulation; he could not live without truth.

Immanuel Kant once said that only one thing was good in itself and that was a good will. The ultimate test of a good will in political life is the willingness to stand against one’s followers on behalf of truth; it is loving truth more than self. Admitting, therefore, Gandhi’s preoccupation with bowels and goat’s milk, with chastity and vegetables, the mystique of retained semen and similar eccentricities, when his test came, when he had to surrender political power or truth, he was radically unlike Milton or Lenin or Samuel Adams or the modern breed of angry savior. He was actually prepared to surrender political power and his followers knew it.

Gandhiji was a great soul in two senses. In Aristotle’s ethical code a man could become magnanimous, great-souled, only after he had mastered all of the other ethical virtues and, consequently, by forgetting self, could rise above mean and petty actions. Mahatma also means great-souled, but for me the Indian word both includes Aristotle’s meaning and carries a higher one of its own. The great soul is one that one which has most clearly realized its relation to Brahman. It is not merely ethical; it is, in some sense, godlike. The ethical man gives us a pattern of conduct, but the godlike man, in addition, expands our awareness according to the measure of his own. We could have seen this more clearly before the age of printing. It requires magnanimity to see it now.

The Celestial Railroad–1968

Editor’s Introduction:  “The Celestial Railroad” is Nathaniel Hawthorne’s satiric metaphor for an illusory shortcut to heaven that promises to free the solitary traveler from the kind of wearying, arduous journey that Bunyan’s pilgrim endured in “Pilgrim’s Progress.”

This lecture, delivered in the spring of 1968, most likely to an audience of U. of Utah honors students, develops this metaphor in the context of higher education and explores some of the modern dogmas that offer tickets on the Celestial Railroad. 

Of notable biographical interest in this speech is Jack’s extended analogy between academic striving and mountain climbing, which was perhaps his greatest pleasure in life.  By this time in his life, he claimed that he had climbed every peak in the Wasatch Range, and I’m sure it was not an idle boast (see for the text of Hawthorne’s story).

The Celestial Railroad – 1968

This year was my first experience with freshmen in the honors program, and I was a little apprehensive in preparing for it. My students, I understood, were to be freshmen: eager but inexperienced and too bright for their own good. I’m not quite sure what I expected from them, but among other things, some adolescent self-righteousness, that depressing earnestness acquired by high-school debaters, many complaints because we were studying Aristotle instead of Chairman Mao, and much bad prose written with consummate self-assurance.

I was wrong on all counts and now, looking back, I wonder what they were expecting from me. The instinct for self-preservation precludes my attempting that portrait. Before we had gotten too far into that course we all came to realize that something rather special was going on, that, in the modern jargon, there was a “happening,” if not every day at least often enough to make things worthwhile. There was a meshing of personalities and purpose that can happen only a few times in a teacher’s life.

I would vigorously deny that in any way I became a father image to the class. God forbid. Even the suggestion is sufficiently horrifying to show how antiquated Freudian clichés have become. No, it was something far more important to me than that. We, the older and younger generation, were talking to one another openly, honestly, sometimes wittily and marveling at the experience. I found to my astonishment that the younger generation have points of view which make sense; they are capable of sympathy and laughter and sometimes they may even feel affection for an older generation which is mostly a puzzle to them.

I, in turn, realized that indirectly I was getting a glimpse into the lives and minds of my own children as I never could at home and I hoped that through me the students were beginning to view a little more maturely the values their parents lived by, the values that have structured their lives and which seem to be coming unglued along with the institutions and societies of which they were a part. For me it was a rare experience and one which I think every member of my generation ought to have.

As my affection for these students grew, along with my admiration for their competence, their honesty, and their idealism, I one day found myself tempted by a monstrous thought. If I could wish one thing for these students, I said inwardly, it would be that their I.Q.’s could silently and quietly be reduced by fifteen or twenty or twenty-five points. Life would then be so much easier for them. Without that increased sensitivity which comes inevitability paired with a sharp intellect, they would, without question, have a better chance at happiness. And happiness, in spite of Carlyle’s thundering that we have no right to expect any, is not to be derided, not by mortals. With intellects only slightly reduced in quality I thought, these students would have a better chance for happy marriages, for stable friendships, for success in political or social life and for much less agony and frustration from that continual self-appraisal to which all mortals subject themselves. The PTA, the Rotary Club, church socials, fraternal lodges, golf, BYU television, Italian movies, weedy lawns, bridge, wedding receptions, commencement dinners—all these little pieces of the social matrix would be so much more endurable, perhaps even enjoyable, if they could be experienced with a little less intellect.

To be more serious, I thought of the rather alarming morbidity with which Thomas Hardy viewed people who had unusual minds. Seeing life as a continual storm sweeping over a heath, Hardy felt that any tree which reared itself too high, any flower which blossomed too elegantly on too think a stalk would be splintered, lacerated, and torn down. Similarly, in his works, every individual of advanced intellect is ultimately destroyed by the uncontrollable forces that deform their lives.

Robinson Jeffers saw it in much the same way although more comprehensively. The stream of evolution, he thought, has carried man too far, had made him too sensitive, too much aware, too full of pain to endure what life asks him to endure. his blood were like the earth’s rivers and his flesh iron,

How shall one dare to live? How has our race with the frail naked nerves So little a craft swum down from its far launching? Though his ribs were thick as the earth’s, arches of mountain, how shall one dare to live?  (Robinson Jeffers, “Gale in April”)

“Pained thoughts,” says Jeffers, may find “the honey peace in old poems,” but they will not likely find them elsewhere, not in the life our young men and women must live out, a life they can no more repudiate than they can repudiate their identities, a terrible and challenging life. They may seek to run from it, to blot it out with anodynes but the seasons will still evolve, for every birth there will sometime a death, passion will alternate with boredom, life will move in its great wheel without concern for the erratic epicycles of individuals while Nature displays her indifferent beauties.

Deer walk upon our mountains, and the quail Whistle about as their spontaneous cries; Sweet berries ripen in the wilderness; And, in the isolation of the sky, At evening, casual flocks of pigeons make Ambiguous undulations as they sink, Downward to darkness on extended wings. (Wallace Stevens, “Sunday Morning”)

With the Honors students I read again Lucretius, a man obsessed with death; Tertullian, who loathed his life; Origen, who castrated himself; Augustine, who ate the dead-ripe flesh of pears which were sweet because they were stolen and sweeter because they were forbidden. We saw these brilliant, tortured men struggling on the river that flows downward to darkness and the students were like the mourners Achilles paid to weep for his friend Patroclus; the old women wailed and beat their breasts, ostensibly for the dead man, but inwardly and secretly each one mourned for herself.

And so the students: they studied mankind and thought of themselves, occasionally of their patients. As they read they were apprehensive and sometimes, in spite of their youth, compassionate. My best wish for them, that of a reduced intellect, was not feasible and so I forsake it and come to my second wish. I hope they will not forsake their solitary journeys and buy a ticket on the Celestial Railroad.

At last, as you see, I have come to the central metaphor of my talk and it will take a little explaining. Fortunately that is what I have been trained to do. The metaphor begins with a work called Pilgrim’s Progress, written in the seventeenth century by John Bunyan. In this work, the Pilgrim is a man who wishes to leave the City of Destruction and go to Beulah Land. He sets out on foot.

One of the worst impediments he has to cope with is a huge and heavy burden on his back. It weighs him down, makes him leg-weary and short of breath, every step a painful one. And this vast burden that he will not lay down, we are told, is the burden of his sin. That is an ancient word, still in use in the seventeenth century, which means a transgression of the law of God. I was once trying to explain to a class what this word meant and I was informed by a young woman that she knew all about it. Hesitantly I asked her to explain. She replied that it was a word which, when placed on the label of any bottle of perfume, made it cost several dollars more.

In any case, Pilgrim with his great burden struggled through bogs and swamps, climbed steep hills, fought dragons and monsters, was laughed at by fashionable men and beautiful women; he was always on the verge of giving up, but something would come along to keep him going, sometimes nothing more than a little sunshine splashed along the side of a hill. And finally he did get there, on Shank’s pony all the way.

A couple of centuries later, Nathaniel Hawthorne was contemplating the quality of religious life in his own time and he thought it had, in some ways, deteriorated. People were no longer making that solitary pilgrimage on foot, burdened by a consciousness of heir inadequacies. Rather an unctuous gentleman named Mr. Smooth-It-Away had built a Celestial Railroad and it was specially designed for the convenience of travelers. That terrible burden on the back was now checked in the baggage care; those quaking bogs were filled in with volumes of French philosophy and German rationalism. People no longer hooted at pilgrim who traveled in style on h Celestial railroad, and, although the track ran through the Valley of Death, that once dreary place was no lighted with gas jets. There was nothing to fear any more; rather better was a little fun, some profitable business and much talk about liberal reforms. These were reforms of other people, if course, never oneself. This convenient world had no place for an old-fashioned pilgrim.

But, as you have probably gathered, Hawthorne, himself an old-fashioned individualist, distrusted Mr. Smooth-It-Away and so he reveals at the end of the story that Mr. Smooth-It Away was not really Ralph Waldo Emerson,  as a student of the period might have guessed; rather he was the devil in one of his clever disguises and the travelers on the Celestial Railroad were getting a little uneasy as they scented the fumes of sulfur.

Those who sell tickets on the Celestial railroad are those who, in any age, tell the individual that his own desires fortunately coincide with universal morality, that he may have it just the way he wants it and, at the same time, know the pure joy of unqualified self-esteem. Check your burdens in the baggage car, light up a cigar, and reform other people as you travel in comfort. Such is the pitch of the ticket seller.

Now I have another monstrous thought tonight and this one I shall not reject; rather I shall share it with you. I think that, in the 20th century, the churches are not the principal sellers of tickets on the Celestial Railroad. That honor, I believe, must go to the universities. I will be disappointed if I haven’t astonished someone, at least a little bit. If I have, you will recover quickly and ask a sensible question: “Doesn’t everyone really see most clearly the ticket sellers and the comfortable journeys that are available in his own profession? Consequently, isn’t it possible that I find the in the universities simply because I know the university life best? Aren’t all institutions about equally shot through with their own peculiar hypocrisies?It’s a good question, quite persuasive, but I’m not ready to surrender yet, not until we have examined a few of the rides currently being taken.

The first kind of ride being offered is the big trip, the journey into inner space, the light of the alone to nowhere. In every age men have sought transcendence, some kind of escape, if only for a moment, from the dull and heavy weight of the flesh, the dismal routine of ordinary perception. And they have developed various ways of achieving that transcendence: the painful self-mortification of the Christian ascetic; the arduous intellectual effort of the traditional humanist who tries to perceive through sheer intellect the relatedness of all things; or there is the Hindu way of love and devotion, bhakti. A man who has successfully followed that path radiates what he is. All you have to do, said Gandhi, is come into the presence of a saint and you know you are there.

But all of these ways require effort and there is the unpleasant risk of failure, so Mr. Smooth-It-Away tells us of the quick trip; like a bad writer for a travel magazine he tells us that waiting to be discovered at any old time is the wonderful world of you: Disneyland and go-go girls right in your front room. Do you want to be a poet, an artist, a great lover, perhaps? Just swallow the pill or the sugar cube or the snake oil. It takes some swallowing all right if we believe that we may buy a ticket to Beulah Land, for we will wake up some day to face the fact that we have been nowhere, that we are our same shabby, sweating selves, but worse. Because we really know already that nothing comes without some combination of talent and effort. The poems we wrote on the railroad, the pictures we painted, the visions we had were all phony; they were just trading stamps that went along with the ticket and the junk we bought with them was not the taste of the glue. I am all for the inward journey. I think everyone should have the courage to descend into the cavern of his heart, but he should have his senses alert; he should take his intellect with him and he should have the courage to live with what he finds. Who knows? Beyond the quick, running feet and the pink tongue, of our animal natures there may be signs of something better if we go deep enough.

For an example of another kind of ticket being sold on the Celestial Railroad, let us take the delicate matter of bigotry, an ugly word itself, almost a pure evil. But Mr. Smooth-It-Away, for a price, will tell us otherwise. I remember once a great liberal, not from this university, whose students inevitably discovered that he had a hidden agenda, that he was obsessed with hatred of a certain religion. Once, in fact, he remarked that orthodox membership in that religion was prima facie evidence that a student was unsuited to receive a higher degree from his department. I was once speaking of this strange phenomenon to a young man who, with a wide-eyed innocence that made me wonder if he had a navel, or if rather he had not come into the world without sin (that is, not having been born of woman) – with just such innocence he explained to me that this was all right because the religion in question was not a liberal one. I thanked him for this because it confirmed what I had suspected, that universities harbor many ad hoc idealists whose principles may be conveniently adjusted like seat belts to accommodate any biases, however lumpish.

Or take the matter of rationality. We learn, as we pursue our education, that anger has never really been a satisfactory response to complex human problems. Rather because it diminishes the role of reason it usually leads to violence, surely the most brainless way of settling anything. And so the Western humanistic tradition has always preached and occasionally practiced the necessity for rational approaches and solutions. But Mr Smooth-It-Away has a ticket for that one, too. The means, he says, are justified by the nobility of the end. Therefore, if your cause is noble, you may be both angry and violent and, at the same time, full of self-congratulations. Others, however, must not become angry and violent in return. You are liberal; the police are not. Ad hoc idealism and seat-belt- principles.

We all remember Voltaire’s old saying, “I disagree with what you say but will defend to the death your right to say it,” and we think of students in Germany trying to shut down a newspaper because they disagreed with it. Imagine the storm of protest that would have arisen if the neo-Nazi party had attempted a similar thing. And yet in all this outrageous attempt at suppression, not one clear voice has cried out in protest from the academic community. I think that what we are seeing is a resurgence of the dangerous dogma that the holding of right opinions releases men from the burden of integrity. Columbia University students therefore, whose opinions are surely right, may decree that only “liberated” professors shall hold classes. And what about the unliberated ones? Select one, any one will do, break down the door and destroy his manuscripts, the labor of five years that he can never recover. If it sounds like the tactics of storm troopers, it isn’t really, as Mr. Smooth-It-Away can tell you. It’s all part of the Greater Freedom. I need not carry this on.

If I have made anyone uncomfortable, I am glad. Mr. Smooth-It-Away, 1968, will sell you a ticket which enables you to ride on a Celestial Railroad where you may be bigoted without shame, violent without condemnation, immortal without remorse, and successful without effort. I know of no institution other than the university where one can buy so many and such wonderful tickets.

If you were one of my Honors students you would ask about now, “How do you know so much about the Celestial Railroad?” I will not dishonor the question. I know about it because I have been riding it for years, buying tickets at the university, sometimes, unknowingly, sometimes with the pungent scent of sulfur in my nostrils. I am not proud of it but I will not deny it. When I first began to perceive what I had done, I was guilty of a final hypocrisy: I exonerated myself and blamed Mr. Smooth-It-Away for selling me the tickets. But I was ultimately forced to confess the truth of what Cleopatra had said long ago to Mark Antony: It takes two to tango and where there is a seller there must also be a buyer. And so I have taken my burden out of the baggage car again and I have joined the walkers, at least I think I have, even though I am a little skeptical about Beulah Land and suspect that the road may lead downward into darkness.Never mind, it is better than the railroad.

That was my second wish for my students; and now I would like to mention a third, for that is the proper number in any fairy tale. As I began to see academic life through the eyes of young students, 12 years of unremitting grind for medical students, seven for law, as many or more for advanced work in any other discipline, work done at the edge of their strength as well as at the edge of poverty, the prime decade of their lives in which they hardly lived at all, but only prepared to live, the image arose in my mind of a middle-aged mountain climber, slightly out of shape, standing at the bottom of a brute of a mountain three miles high and covered with rock faces. Surely the best thing to do would be to forget it. But there is another possibility; every many on a mountain has at least the hope of finding a rhythm. That rhythm is the most complete and intimate expression of his physical being; lung capacity, heartbeat, metabolism musculature; everything meshes into a certain rhythm that is right for that man on that mountain. And if one finds it, one is almost unstoppable. That, however, is not the principal reason for finding it, although those who call themselves “assaulters” don’t know that. The real reason, rather, is that in the rhythm you feel a oneness with the mountain, a moving with it rather than against it. It is exhilarating, a way of being turned on; to borrow a phrase from an ancient book, it is to be lifted on eagles’ wings. To hold one’s own pace sometimes requires humility, another ancient word. For in that slow, deeply satisfying, swinging pace that is looking hours away and miles up, there will always be the temptation to speed it up. Yet, as every climber knows, an increase of even fie percent over his rhythm will wear him out in a few hours.So it is a little difficult when smirking Boy Scouts go by, leaving a trail of litter and laughter, moving with the disgusting ease of the very young; perhaps little old ladies in tennis shoes go past or a clergyman in a wheel chair. Then the temptation is to break that strong rhythm, to push the button, to prove something to oneself (which proof is never acceptable anyway) or to someone else who doesn’t care in the slightest. So the climber who wants the confidence and the delight will stay within his own rhythm and the going will be as good as the arrival.

I think I have learned from young students that the world is wound up too tight, the academic world in particular; it is too frantic; one who would run with it must break the rhythms that are normal to mankind, must force himself against impersonal obstacles in the conquest of which there is neither joy nor self-mastery but only desperation and iron will. I think they taught me that the excessive, never-ending quest for excellence, the merit examinations, the pressures at home and in school, the dehumanization of the processes of learning are repugnant. If so, I agree.

And so my third wish for them is that they might wait for the gift, find the rhythm and know the delight in the journey. But mostly I hope that they will not give up, even if they don’t find the rhythms and buy a ticket on the Celestial Railroad, checking their burdens in the baggage car. As to that burden, that heavy load of sin Bunyan talked about, it may, in truth be a little out of date. At least I think of it in another way. The burden every man should carry is simply the burden of his own integrity. That word will never increase the value of a bottle of perfume, but it may still be the better part of our humanity.

How Writers Use the Bible

Editor’s Introduction: one of Jack Adamson’s scholarly interests was the Bible. For many years, he taught a course at the University of Utah on the Bible as literature.  In this essay, no doubt originally delivered as a lecture (but whose provenance I haven’t been able to determine), Adamson talks about the Bible as foundational knowledge for understanding a great deal of literature written in English and bemoans that students and Americans in general know so little about it. 

How Writers Use the Bible

Jack H. Adamson Undated ms., ca. 1972

I have an interesting and difficult job: at the University of Utah, more than any other man, I try to keep alive among the students some knowledge of the Bible. If you are inclined to think that because Utah has a strong religious flavor to its culture that the young people know the Bible, at least in any complete or significant way, you are simply mistaken. I recall once that with a class of 35 bright and sophisticated students, I began a study of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. I told the students that there was no way they could understand the work without some knowledge of the Bible, including the Books of Jonah and Job. Let us start with the simplest, easiest and one of the best books in the Bible, I said, the Book of Jonah. What happens in that book? They all said that a “whale” had swallowed a man, which is technically not true, but beyond that they knew nothing. As for the Book of Job it might as well have been written in Martian.

It was this incredible ignorance that led me to feel that I must do something about it. I found that I was not alone in my concern for the fate of the Bible. The Gideon Society, which puts the Bibles in motels, became worried because no one was stealing their Bibles any more; the Wall Street Journal ran a front page article in 1969 pointing out that Bible sales of 19 million in 1957 had dropped to fourteen million in 1967. Further they said that sales analyses proved that 75% of those purchased were given as gifts, presumably from parents to children which made it almost automatically certain that the children would think they were being done good by and therefore wouldn’t read them.

Next George Gallup got into the act: he polled the American public. 60% of the American public didn’t know that the Holy Trinity is; 66% couldn’t say who delivered the Sermon on the Mount and 79% couldn’t name a single Old Testament prophet. Those percentages would be even higher today according to the Wall Street Journal. Then, belatedly as always, the educators got into the act. Teachers of literature discovered that their students were unable to read as simple a piece as Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea on their own. At the end of that story, the old man, his hands torn by the line which he had held in fighting the great fish, with the mast of his little sailing vessel over his shoulder, wearily, with the last of his life’s strength, leaves the harbor and climbs a hill on his way home. Students would read this without for a moment connecting it with the passion and death of Christ; and as for the old man’s continual dreaming of the young lions, a phrase and symbol from the Old Testament, it might as well have been written in Greek. Now many writers have to endure the fact that their books don’t sell; but no writer can endure that his artistry should not be understood, that is if he has any.

So out at Newton High School in Massachusetts, a survey was conducted. Newton, I should tell you, is believed by many to be the finest example in Massachusetts of what a public high school should be and there a little Bible quiz was given to college-bound juniors and seniors. As teachers read those quizzes they realized for the first time the extent of the cultural deprivation. Several students believed that Sodom and Gomorrah were lovers (that would be some love affair); that the Gospels were written by Matthew, Mark, Luther and John; that the four Horsemen appeared on the Acropolis; that Jesus was baptized by Moses; that Jezebel was Ahab’s donkey and that the stories by which Jesus taught were called parodies. They could not complete: “They shall beat their swords into ploughshares.” 84 percent could not complete: “The truth shall make you free.” The same percentage could not complete “A soft answer turneth away wrath”; “Pride goeth before a fall;” “The love of money is the root of all evil.” And so Newton High began to offer the same kind of course that I offer here ( I hope mine is a little higher level) and within a year two students got perfect scores: one was named Cohen and one was named O’Connell, and even the parents who classified themselves as nonbelievers expressed satisfaction with the results of the course.

This concern about cultural deprivation is not new. In the last century the great English poet and scholar Matthew Arnold became aware of the devastation that was accompanying the growing awareness of Darwin’s then new theory of evolution and also the Higher Criticism of the Bible, a textual and cultural criticism which had been initiated by the German scholars who were then the best in the Western world. Arnold believed that these two things would seriously affect the possibility of the literal belief in the Bible, at least in the theory of plenary inspiration which held that each and every word revealed the mind of God and therefore equally inspired. No, people were beginning to look at the Bible with new eyes a hundred years ago, but Arnold, as a writer, could not endure the cultural loss that he thought was coming. He therefore wrote the now famous essay called “Literature and Dogma,” in which he pleaded that we should continue to value and appreciate the literature of the Bible even if it should lose for us its dogmatic relevance.

Succeeding writers have continued to use the Bible, and it is the manner of their usage that I here wish to explore briefly. John Steinbeck writes a novel called East of Eden. The title should immediately make us aware that he is going to echo a Biblical theme, which he does: there are two brothers, one of whom the Father loves and approves and one whom he rejects and that rejection leads to frustration and violence. It is of course the Cain and Abel theme.

Or there is the French novelist and Nobel Prize winner, Albert Camus, who writes a novel called The Fall. It is set in Amsterdam, the scene (he says) of the greatest crime ever committed against humanity. He means the Nazi hounding and slaughter of the Jews there, which was brought home to us by the diary of Anne Frank, Is there any hope for for fallen man? is one of the questions he asks. One of the themes of the book is that of the doves. One can’t see them but can hear them flying, circling up there; they want to land somewhere on earth but there is no place where they can. Anyone who knows his New Testament knows that the dove is a symbol of God’s spirit and grace. In Camus’ novel, the grace is there waiting for man to make himself worthy. But it is not quite as simple as that, for Camus was an agnostic; technically he did not really believe in God’s grace, so then what is his novel about? Well, that is another story and another day.

Or there is Clifford Odets’ fine play, Flowring Peach. Odets as a young man was a militant communist and his play Waiting for Lefty was for a time in the 30’s the handbook of the American Communist Party. But something happened to him on the way to Utopia and somewhere along the line his cultural Judaism began to compete with and finally overtake his intellectual ideology. Culture is nearly always stronger than intellect. Nearly always. In any case Flowring Peach is a modern version of Noah. As the play opens we find that Noah is an old man whose life is over; his children have disappointed him; his wife nags (she is a kind of Jewish mother if you know the type) and so Noah has turned away from life and has found solace in gin. He is a not very happy drunk. And then something happens: his God speaks to him; his God touches Noah and suddenly his muscles find a new tone; his voice is masculine and young again; he is the father, the lover of his wife and the ruler of his children, whom he tells about the destruction of the world that is imminent and which they all must escape. Surely you now see that Odets is doing something a little different from the previous writers, but just as legitimate. Instead of using a modern subject which echoes the Bible, he has reversed the procedure. He is using a Biblical subject to echo modern times and our greatest modern concern: will the world indeed be blown up?

A rather famous scientist whose name you would all know used to tell me that the odds were 60-40 against our ever reaching the year 2050. Well, we could say with a sigh of relief, I will be safely dead by then, but what of our children? Well, you might say, I’ve given up on them, spoiled, affluent, credit card hippies who have rejected the ethic of work and all sense of responsibility. All right. But what of the grandchildren? They are wonderful. They redeem all the pain that our children caused and we must save the world for them.

And so back to Odets’ play. There is a boy named Japheth, a sort of college liberal who says that he will not go aboard the ark. What kind of a God is it, he asks, who would destroy people? This God ought to be building roads, lines of communication, that would help people understand and love one another. And so if the world is to be destroyed, Japheth wants to die with the rest, the rest, not to be saved with the elite. The Mother argues with him. Look, she says, our people have historically lived with one disaster after another. I cannot save the world; I am sorry for other people but I can only think about my own family. My family must survive. That is my concern and you are my family. No, says Japheth, I won’t go. Noah knows that the laws are a thousand years old and are wiser than people, and so he will obey. However he has also discovered, like most fathers, that there is no point in arguing with his son, who is a university programmed liberal, and so he sensibly knocks the boy unconscious and carries him aboard the ark. At the end of the play the rains have subsided, all the women are pregnant, and a dove sent out from the ark, returns not with an olive branch but with a spray of flowering peach.

What does that mean? Well, I’d need a detailed analysis to say it all, but among other things it expresses a modified hope. Something and someone will survive and life will go on. But you can’t help admiring that college a little bit. Maybe more than a little. Well, I have made a point, but I now have a deeper point to make. Unless I make it carefully, I may offend some, although that will not be my intention. So first, let me make the point bluntly: our most profound writers use the Bible as a source of myth. It’s as simple as that.

So now I need to say a word or two about myth in its modern meaning. There was a time as I’m sure you are aware when to say that something was a myth was to say that it was non‑factual and therefore untrue. But the meaning has changed. Now we tend to feel that myths reveal most profoundly the essence and nature of a culture. If you were to ask an anthropologist what is the most important thing about any early culture, its pots, its customs, or its myths, while he would like to have all three he would suggest that in the myths you have the deepest expression of the mind and culture of a people. C.S. Lewis, a devout Anglican and a brilliant scholar, once defined myth as a symbolic narrative; that is, he was suggesting that it was profoundly true but at a symbolic and not at a literal level of meaning. I liked what he said but thought he didn’t go far enough. My own definition of a myth therefore is this: myth is a symbolic narrative which evokes awe and wonder and deals with the deepest concerns of a culture. If the myth does not evoke awe and wonder then it does not function for you. We have always had two great treasuries of myth so defined and those are the Greek and the Hebrew. For many centuries in the past, writers worked, reworked, and overworked the Greek myths until readers wearied and tired of them. Walt Whitman said that the debt to Athens had been overpaid, and that we should put up a sign, To Rent on Mount Parnassus. In recent times however Freud had very effectively revived the myth of Oedipus, which many writers have used, and James Joyce has written one of the great novels of the 20th century about Ulysses. At the same time Joyce was writing Ulysses, the very great German writer, Thomas Mann, was writing his series of novels about Joseph, a figure who comes to us from the treasury of Hebrew myth. You understand that I do not suggest, nor does Mann, that Joseph was not an actual character; in fact, he very likely was, but we do say that he is also a mythical character as we are trying to use the term, and I think our most profound writers are always striving for the mythic; to say that a writer successfully arouses mythic wonder is about the best one can say. If a myth functions yet has universal appeal, it means that it contains within it universal experience. Thomas Mann was convinced that every man and woman relived in some way the great myths of his culture. James Joyce believed that too, and so in his Ulysses, a Dublin Jew named Leopold Bloom, relives in 24 hours the 24 books of Homer’s Ulysses. And so Thomas Mann’s Joseph is Everyman; similarly Freud said that in some sense every man was Oedipus, every woman Electra and when we read those myths, he said, we felt that old awe stealing over us, because we realized that we were reading about ourselves. So let us see how Mann uses myth. The boy Joseph you remember, because he was the son of the wife Jacob loved most, a wife whom he lost in childbirth.   He is highly favored of his father. The boy continually has dreams in which his superiority to his brothers is established. And so while they work in the fields, Joseph walks around like a prince, in a fancy coat, and is given a university tutor. Then one day Joseph is sent off to the summer pasture land where his brothers are working with the flocks. They see him coming from a distance and they say to one another, “Behold, this dreamer cometh.”

Out of their rage and envy, the seize the boy and are about to murder him, but through the intercession of one of the brothers, they cast him into a pit, an old dry well, the walls of which are too smooth to be climbed. There in that dark pit the boy awaits starvation and the agony of long death. But he suffers an even greater agony, an agony of spirit. He has gone down into the pit in a symbolic sense and, says Mann, every other human being who ever lives will do the same.

What does he mean by that? We are all born into a comfortable, secure world, and unless we are desperately unlucky, we are born to parents who idealize us, and grandparents who worship us. We are made to feel as children that we are very special, almost unique, wholly admirable and always to be loved. And then sometime, say about adolescence, we first encounter cultural or personal hatred we discover that people dislike us, perhaps even hate us, because we are different, because we are Mormons or Jews or Catholics or WASPs or blacks or whatever. And beyond all that cultural hatred that exists in the world there are people who simply dislike us personally. A wise Frenchman once said that Americans were the world’s perpetual children because they always wished to be liked by everyone and thought that was possible, but if so America has gone down into the pit in the last few years.

More than any other people in the world right now, I should think, we feel the force of Mann’s mythic art and that ultimate human truth of the Biblical account on which it is based. America was born under the influence of two most potent myths: the Golden Age and the Garden of Eden before the serpent. All of Europe’s ancient problems would be corrected here. We were sure of that. Send us your sick, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. Here there will be equality, democracy; brotherhood. And then the disillusionment set in. The American Dream. How the young people sneer at that phrase. Their disillusionment at our failures is all the more intense because of the high hopes. We parents try to be wiser. We are Joseph, and we are in the pit, our souls seared by the contempt and scorn of our brothers. Our innocence, our naivete, our pride made it inevitable that we should go into the pit; we deserved it. What happened to us is our own fault. But Joseph emerged from the pit to save the very brothers who put him there. Will we? I don’t know, but our mythic consciousness suggests to us that sensibility.

To conclude: In Western culture, we have two great sources of mythic reference: the Greek and the Hebrew. For some reason, in our time, the Hebrew is the more potent. It has not always been, but it is now. And that is why I teach the Bible to young students.

If There is Any Other Way, or We Have Become the Tools of our Tools


Editor’s Introduction:  Delivered as the commencement address at the University of Utah on August 14, 1971, this speech meditates powerfully on the decline of civility in American institutions and American life.  Readers will note Jack’s emphasis here on the centrality of human relationships in the success of human institutions.   Ultimately, nearly all of his thought and writings return to this theme of the drama of human relations. This is one reason why, even though he was a literary scholar, his most powerful writings focus on the biographical rather than the textual.  

In the university, Adamson argues, the core problem is one of scale:  universities have become too large and impersonal.  Students feel anonymous, which gives rise to resentment and hostility, a trend made worse by the search for individual recognition.

We have become, I believe, the tools of our tools; we have lost control of the institutions designed to serve us.  Everywhere affection is on the wane; indifference and hostility increase. We need new moralists to tell us that the endless cult of success is a form of spiritual pride; that our search for prizes and honors and press notices, the insane urge to be always bigger, and presumably therefore better, is perverse; and the consolations of our small boastings will trickle away faster than time itself.

In the final two paragraphs, he proposes his solution to this problem, though given the wistful tone, one could wonder how optimistically he viewed the possibility of repairing–re-humanizing–institutions that have become dehumanized, as he feels has happened to the university he so loved.

If There Is Any Other Way (1971)

(PDF file of lecture)

The Golden Savage Land

Editor’s introduction:  In January, 1967, Jack Adamson delivered the Frederick Williams Reynolds lecture at the University of Utah.  The Reynolds lectures, a series which continues to this day, are sponsored by the U. of U.’s Dept. of Continuing Education and are intended to highlight the results of original scholarly research.

Jack’s lecture, “The Golden Savage Land,” grew out of work he had recently conducted while writing a biography of Walter Raleigh–The Shepherd of the Ocean–which would be published in both the United States and Great Britain to critical acclaim in 1969.  The lecture explores the myths that early European explorers and settlers projected onto the New World and compares these with the realities they encountered.

No one had really meant it to be that way, but the vision was golden, the reality was savage, and between vision and reality there had fallen a fatal shadow.

The Reynolds Lecture was a major annual event on Utah’s campus, and in a day when lectures retained some prominence as a significant public event, was well-attended and widely covered by local media.

Thirty-First Annual Frederick William Reynolds Lecture

The Golden Savage Land

Jack H. Adamson

Professor, Department of English

University of Utah

Delivered at Kingsbury Hall, University of Utah, Tuesday, January 31, 1967

Notes from original program:

The Annual Reynolds Lectureship at the University of Utah serves a double purpose. First, through a distinguished member of the faculty, the University presents an important yearly offering to the public. Second, the Lectureship commemorates in a fitting way the unique services to the University and to the State of Frederick W. Reynolds, Professor of English, and organizer and first Director of the Extension Division. The Committee responsible for selection of each year’s speaker consists of members of the Executive Committee of the Reynolds Association and the President and Academic Vice President of the University.

The yearly presentation is a joint undertaking of the Division of Continuing Education and the Reynolds Association.

“In these lectures, as the years go by, new knowledge, important subjects, and vital issues will be discussed. It is more than likely that some of these issues may be controversial in nature, about which (differences of opinion and strong feeling may exist. But even upon such questions it is proposed that the speaker shall be free to approach his subject with intellectual courage and vigor and advance any ideas which he can support with facts and logic.

“It is assumed, of course, that good taste shall not be violated, that propaganda in the narrower sense shall never intrude, and that due regard to the rights and feeling of others shall always be evident. But as long as the treatment of a subject is intelligent, objective, and critical, it is assumed that the speaker shall be free to follow facts and reasoning through to their conclusion.

“If such a policy, perchance, shall change some of our beliefs-then so be it. For beliefs are the framework upon which we do our thinking. Many present beliefs are the product of other times and other conditions – useful then, perhaps, but possibly hampering now. When certain beliefs hinder the effective use of intelligence, or hamper our adjustment to new conditions in a rapidly changing world, then more helpful beliefs become priceless -and desirable even at the expense of some temporary loss of tranquility.

The products of intellectual activity and scientific investigation are to be brought here, not the reiteration of uncritical traditional views. On no other basic premise can a Frederick William Reynolds Lecture be true to its name-or be even worthy of its name.”

From introductory remarks by H. L. Marshall, President of the Frederick William Reynolds Association, at the first annual lecture, January, 1936.

The Golden Savage Land

Jack H. Adamson

Europe’s most adventurous men have always dreamed of sailing west. The Pillars of Hercules, that narrow opening in the western Mediterranean, seemed to the Greeks a symbol of limit and restraint. To sail beyond them was an act of deadly pride. Ulysses was the one man who, with full understanding of its symbolic meaning, had scudded before the eastern wind through those stone gates and into the unknown.

In the Inferno, Dante and Vergil saw Ulysses and they asked him how he died. He replied,

Neither fondness for my son, nor pity

for an old father, nor the love for Penelope

which should have made her happy,

could overcome in me the desire I had

to gain experience of the world

and of the vices and worth of men.

I set out on the high open sea

with only one ship and with that little company

by which I was not deserted.

That company passed the Pillars and, as Columbus was later to do, sailed west-southwest, watching with awe the rise and fall of new constellations. Finally they saw land and rejoiced. But then, from the new land, came a whirlpool which struck their ship. It went down and the sea closed over the mariners.[1] Ulysses unwittingly had embodied in his voyage the principal theme of new world colonization: immortal hopes followed by mortal disasters.

So Ulysses was punished for his pride, but the memory persisted of a man who by sailing west had personified the spirit of adventure and discovery. Francis Bacon recalled that memory when he came to write his scientific work, the Instauratio Magna, in which he said he would begin anew the entire labor of the human mind. For though man had lost his insights into the workings of nature, by a proper scientific method, he would discover the kind of knowledge which could be converted into power. To symbolize this quest for new knowledge, Bacon designed a frontispiece for his book which shows a stylized representation of the Pillars of Hercules and, beyond them, the vessel of the human intellect steering west under spread canvas (see fig. 1). New intellectual frontiers, like new geographical worlds, lay somewhere beyond the western stars.

Other Greeks than Ulysses had been intrigued with the theme of “perfection beyond the sunset.”[2] Since it seemed appropriate that the land where the sun slept should be the home of dead heroes, both the Elysian Fields of Homer and the Hesperides of Hesiod were conceived to be somewhere in the western sea. And Plato had speculated about a western island called Atlantis where throve a sophisticated civilization.[3] This brilliant kingdom had been devoured by the sea, but men still believed remnants of a lost civilization might be found somewhere west of Gibraltar. Before Columbus sailed, Europe was filled with stories about wonderful lands in the west.

Columbus seemed to confirm these stories when in February of 1493, (during his homeward voyage, he wrote a letter which was the first eyewitness report of the new world. It now seems clear that Columbus described not so much what he saw as what he wanted to see, the images he had carried in his mind from Spain. In the new world, he said it was perpetual spring where the people were innocent and happy and where the nightingale sang. Actually there were no nightingales in the new world, nor was it spring. And the lives of the people might better have been described in the words of Thomas Hobbes as “nasty, brutish and short.”

On his third voyage, Columbus wrote from the island of Hispaniola (modern Haiti) that he believed in his soul that the Garden of Eden was situated somewhere near the source of the Orinoco River.[4] Such views helped to create in Europe the widespread conviction that the native peoples of America were a living embodiment of the golden age. This myth of a golden age, Freud was later to say, is one of mankind’s most persistent and powerful dreams. During the golden age, people lived simply and according to nature. They did not dye their clothing; they did not wound the breast of Mother Earth with the sharp point of the plow, and Mother Earth in turn showered fruits upon them. They did not cut down tall trees to make masts for ships that carried them among strange who challenged their home-centered values. In this age there was neither greed nor deceit, and the impious rifling of the bowels of the earth for metal was unknown. John Milton, accepting some of these golden age values, placed the origin of mining in hell.[5] And some American Puritans who had read Milton, or were otherwise persuaded, held that their success in the New World was due to their stout refusal to seek gold. To those descended from Puritan stock (like the Mormons), mining was an evil best left to those who, in their ignorance, were content to become vulgarly rich.

All those perilous sophistications that had accompanied the loss of the golden age, Columbus told the world, had never been known in America, where men were still resplendent (as Milton was later to say) in their “first naked Glory.” The mind of Europe soon responded. In 1516, Thomas More published his Utopia. Nine years earlier, Amerigo Vespucci had published his Four Voyages, in which he mentioned discovering in the west a people who held all of their possessions in common and who had created an ideal society. He also said that he had left twenty-four men with arms and six-months’ provisions to further explore the American islands. It was one of these mariners whom More pretended to have met and from whom he learned of the just society in America. This mariner, said More, “like the prudent prince, Ulysses,” had sailed westward where he had found something far more important than marvels and wonders. He had found a commonwealth where citizens “were ruled by good and wholesome laws.”

This commonwealth, conceived by an intellectual humanist with little interest in pastoral boredom, was not primitive. The Utopians were rather men who had fully utilized the natural light of reason, and their society, although it strikes us today as being in some ways repressive, was a product of rational thought. Every able-bodied person was required to work, and because there was a fair distribution of the burdens of labor, no one needed to spend more than six hours a day at his job. Wealth, like labor, was equitably distributed. When a city became overcrowded, colonists were sent out to found a new city and the Utopians thus avoided the sprawl and blight and smog that characterized More’s London. But more important than any specific provision, however prophetic, was the underlying theme: a rational approach to social problems is possible and conditions that make for crime, social unrest, poverty, ignorance and despair can he meliorated by thoughtful political action.

More did not forget the themes of the golden age. His Utopians did not dye their clothes and they used no money. Rather they made chamber pots out of gold and felons’ shackles out of silver. Rubies and pearls were toys for children, all of whom were nursed by their own mothers, which has long been a male panacea for curing the ills of the world. And, although the Utopians had no creed, like the native Americans as seen by Columbus, they intelligently worshiped a divine power.

More never for a moment believed that a commonwealth such as his Utopia actually existed, but soon his readers began to wonder. For, eight years after Utopia was published, the bloody and illiterate Pizarro stumbled into the Inca kingdom in Peru. About all he noticed were the hangings of gold and silver plates in the Temple of the Sun at Tumbez , but some of his followers began to speak of a Utopian kingdom of the Incas. It was asserted that these Incans used no money, that they kept an exact census and took taxation in kind; when cities grew too populous, new ones were colonized in the wilderness; the laws were just and mild; no one was allowed to remain idle, yet labor was not oppressive. Occasionally, unwary scholars, forgetting their dates, have said that More may have got some of his ideas from the Incan empire, and a man whom I knew, throwing all caution aside, insisted that More had somehow heard of Peru before Pizarro discovered it and that the Utopia was a description of an actual American state and not an imaginative construct at all. That thesis I would not care to defend. But enthusiasm for the Jncan empire has always run high. One distinguished historian believed that “probably never in the world has a communistic experiment, on a large scale, attained a greater measure of success.” [6] It seemed possible that a great civilization lay concealed somewhere in America and that possibility intrigued Sir Walter Ralegh among others.

The circumstances in which Ralegh was to approach the new world were being created in France. There Gaspard de Coligny, as Admiral of France, fell heir to the difficulties of French colonization in America. His biggest problem was that Spain and Portugal were there ahead of him. When Columbus had discovered the West Indies, it appeared that a major conflict might erupt between Spain and Portugal. Pope Alexander VI, who did not wish to see two Catholic powers bleed one another, issued on May 4, 1493, a bull which was intended to pacify the new world. In this bull, the Pope ceded to Spain

all islands and lands found and to be found, discovered and to be discovered to the west and south by making and drawing a line from the Arctic or North Pole to the Antarctic, or South Pole, which line shall be distant an hundred leagues west and south of any of the islands which are commonly called the Azores. . . .

For a number of reasons the bull was a bad legal document, its principal ambiguity lying in the language which said that Spain was to have all lands west and south of a meridian, for south can have no meaning with reference to a meridian. The document could be construed to mean that two lines should be drawn, a meridian 100 leagues west of those islands and a latitude 100 leagues south; some who took the bull seriously did so interpret it. Such a view left everything north of the modern state of Florida open to exploration and settlement.

In the year 1555, the Seigneur de Villegaignon, who was also Vice-Admiral of Brittany, Proposed to Coligny that he be allowed to seek a refuge in America for Huguenots.   Because he thought it would be a brilliant stroke of foreign policy to substitute a foreign enterprise for the bitter dissensions at home which seemed to be leading to religious and civil war, Coligny included his ear. Villegaignon played the now familiar themes about Western colonization: the natives would be brought to a knowledge of Christ; the country would be populated with the Frenchmen who would trade profitably with the homeland and France would flourish. When the enterprise was approved by the king, Villegaignon made an appeal to God-fearing men, but such men, it seemed, preferred to fear God at home and sop he filled his ships with vagabonds and brawlers whom he found conveniently assembled in the jails of Brittany.

His two boats carried sailors, soldier, artisans, and ministers but no gardeners or farmers. There was a large theological library but no seeds or plows. When the colony landed at the present site of Rio de Janeiro, Villegaignon could scarcely control his enthusiasm. He has found, he wrote, a new Garden of Eden; the simple people were men of the golden age.

The new settlement, named Coligny, was reinforced in March, 1557, by a new company, some of whom has been personally chosen by John Calvin. Again these colonists brought no equipment with which they could plant or reap; they seem to have regarded themselves as traders and their ships were piled with cheap trinkets which they bartered to the Indians for food. Villegaignon, now bored and restless, began to browse in the theological library. From reading the Fathers of the Church, he concluded that John Calvin was in mortal error and he thereupon forbade the practise of Huguenot religion in the colony that has been established as a refugee for it. When most of the Huguenots deserted, Villegaignon himself abandoned the colony, which was captured with some slaughter by the Portuguese.

In many ways the first French colony was an epitome of colonies to come. It had the same noble motivations, the same haphazard preparations, the same predictable failures. And this first colony strengthened the Columbian myth that the new world was the Garden of Eden before the serpent where the simple lives of the people, ordered in nature’s way, offered a contrast and a rebuke to civilization. And yet, not many of the European colonists really liked these children of nature when they were filling Europe with romantic stories about the, Later, a group of Martin Frobisher’s men on Baffin Island caught an Eskimo woman and pulled off her mukluks to see if she ha a cloven hoof. Just a little frustration and the colonists saw the children of the golden age as demons. The bitterest curses about America came from those who had lived for awhile in paradise.

France made two other attempts to settle in Florida, in territory which, under the Pope’s bull, belonged to Spain. Both colonies were failures and last one was annihilated. The lesson was clear. Spain and Portugal intended to keep the new world free from intruders. It was a common saying that there was no peace beyond the line which the Pope had drawn. Whoever ventured out there had better be prepared for rough play.

This was clearly understood by a young Englishman who had served the Huguenots under Admiral Coligny in the French Wars of Religion. That young man, Walter Ralegh, not yet a knight of England, knew as well as any man alive what Coligny had tried to do and why he had failed. He and his half-brother, Humphrey Gilbert, were anxious to find the Northwest Passage, believed to be a calm inland waterway running roughly from Newfoundland to San Francisco by means of which English trading vessels could sail safely toward the riches of Cathay (see fig. 2).

Finally having secured the first Letters Patent ever given in England for colonizing in the new world, Gilbert and Ralegh prepared an expedition. In 1581, the English Parliament, alarmed at Catholic plots against the Queen’s life, had passed a new recusancy law. In the future, the penalty for failing to conform to the established religion would be an almost confiscatory fine of 20 pounds sterling a month. It was a bleak situation for English Catholics and so, like the French Huguenots before them, they thought of the new world as a refuge from the intolerance of the old. Some of them approached Gilbert who, for a consideration, assigned them nine million acres of land between Florida and Cape Breton. Gilbert also worked out an idealized scheme of government of which he was to be the head.

But when the Spanish ambassador heard of the plans, he persuaded the Pope to oppose them, and when the English priests also withdrew their support, the Catholic gentlemen reluctantly dropped the enterprise. If the plan had succeeded the legend of America might have been somewhat different. North America might have been looked on primarily as the refuge of oppressed Catholics rather than a haven for persecuted Protestants. Gilbert’s project aroused tremendous excitement in England where many felt that the nation had already delayed too long in building an overseas empire. A Hungarian scholar, Stephen Parmenius, then at Oxford, wrote an Embarkation Ode in elegant Latin hexameters.[7] He began it with a tribute to Gilbert, a lasting ornament of the British race, who would discover, somewhere in the new world, a land where the Spaniards did not practice their bloody cruelties in the name of religion. There :also he would find a people sprung from mother earth who still retained their ancient manners. The golden age was not yet known, even in England, but was there any reason why it could not exist already in lands unknown? Soon a foreign people would be united under Gilbert’s benign rule. The citizens of this new country would know neither fraud nor guile; they would find happiness in virtue which would be measured by worth rather than birth; there would be no rich or poor and liberty would flourish. This vision of society so intoxicated Parmenius that he offered his services to Gilbert and lost his life on the expedition, paying the ultimate high price for confusing fantasy and reality. Nor was Parmenius the only poet of the occasion. Half the sea-dogs of England turned versifier for this event that stirred them so deeply. Among the laureates was John Hawkins, England’s first slave trader. With some difficulty his verses limped through the familiar arguments: religion would be brought to the natives, England’s problem of overpopulation would be solved and those who furthered the expedition would reap a “private gain.” That was poetry seamen could understand.

Even Francis Drake was moved by the muse. His lines are a little stilted but they express the man reasonably well.

“Who seeks by worthy deeds to gain renown for hire;

Whose heart, whose hand, whose purse is pest to purchase his desire;

If any such there be that thirsteth after fame,

Lo! here a means to win himself an everlasting name.”[8]

But seldom has there been such a gulf between vision and reality. Except for its tragic ending, Gilbert’s expedition was pure comic opera. On June 11, 1583, with a small fleet, he sailed for Newfoundland, a country that had been desultorily inhabited by fishermen of all nations for at least seventy-five years. On the way he passed 350 fishing vessels and when he arrived at St. John’s harbor, his own countrymen, at first, would not allow him to enter. When informed of the Queen’s commission, they reconsidered and the expedition sailed grandly in, so preoccupied with the greatness of (lie occasion that Gilbert’s own ship grounded on rock.

In no way dismayed, Gilbert assumed command of his kingdom. Cynics about government will enjoy hearing that his first act was the imposition of a tax on every ship in the harbor. The next day, he cut a piece of turf and broke a twig, lifted them up, one in each hand, and took possession of the land for 600 miles in every direction.   He now owned more real estate than any monarch in Europe.

To the relief of the fishermen, the new king of North America soon sailed south looking for a more likely site for the colony. On the uncharted Atlantic coast, his largest ship foundered and went down without a survivor. Gilbert then turned homeward and, to show his own courage, sailed a pinnace of fifteen tons, no larger than a modern lifeboat. North of the Azores the two remaining ships ran into an evil storm. St. Elmo’s fire flamed on the yard arm; the seas swelled and rolled. The pinnace, at one moment, flung high on a crest, at the next would dip out of sight in a trough. Gilbert sat on deck, calmly reading his Bible. He had found himself a phrase for the occasion and whenever the two ships came within hailing distance he would cry out, “We are as near Heaven by sea as by land.” We are also as far but that thought did not occur to Gilbert. About midnight the lights of his pinnace disappeared.

So ended the first English attempt to colonize America. Much later an English admirer, whose facts were slightly awry, but whose sentiments were impeccable, attempted to immortalize Gilbert’s deeds in verse:

“’Twas but three days from Newfoundland

When overboard he failed,

And as he was a-going down,

Upon the Lord he called.

Hesiod put it better. “It is an awful thing to die among the waves,” especially for a man who had sailed with such golden hopes.

Within a week Ralegh had heard of Gilbert’s loss; he immediately asked the Queen to transfer to him the Letters Patent for colonizing the new world. She agreed, Parliament approved and, in March of 1584, Ralegh had exclusive rights to the North American continent north of Florida. Such was his swift energy when his interest was fully engaged that within one month he had a reconnoitering expedition on the way under Captains Amadas and Barlow.

This expedition made landfall at Wococon, an island which is part of a long sand reef off the coast of North Carolina. The land breeze carried to them the scent of a “delicate garden.”[9] The Englishmen were especially impressed by the abundance of grapes, for England had never known the art of wine making. On July 4 they lifted up turf and twig and took possession of the land in the name of Queen Elizabeth.

Soon Indians appeared. They were “very handsome and goodly people and in their behavior as mannerly and civil as any of Europe.” Immediately the Englishmen and Indians fell to trading and the sailors made the same mistake as Coligny’s colony by taking advantage of the natives. They were delighted when the simple heart of Granganimo, brother of the chieftain was overcome by the glitter of a tin dish. “They told him that he could have it for twenty deerskins. Delighted, he hung it around his neck, saying that it would defend him from the arrows of his enemies. When he saw a suit of armor, he offered a box of pearls for it. But Barlow would not trade: he wanted not only the pearls but also the knowledge of where they were obtained.

Trading promoted confidence and soon Granganimo brought his wife and children aboard one of the ships. She was wearing a necklace of pearls and he had on his head a broad plate of “gold or copper,” impossible to identify because it was unpolished. Ralegh’s captains tried to get the Indian to remove the plate and let them examine it but he would not. Finally he allowed them to feel it; it was malleable and so Barlow put the scent of gold into English nostrils.

After a few days, the expedition sailed north some twenty miles to Roanoke Island. There they saw their first Indian village and John White later made a drawing of it (see fig. 3). The Englishmen were hospitably entertained; Harlow was so impressed with the “love and kindness” shown to his men that he concluded, as had Columbus, Villegaignon and Parmenius before him, that the ancient myth of the golden age was already a reality in the new world.

We found the people most gentle, loving and faithful, void of all guile and treason, and such as lived after the manner of the golden age.

But the Indians were friendly not for the Rousseauistic reason that they were unspoiled by civilization hut rather because of superstitious veneration that sustained contact with their guests was likely to vitiate. The Indians, marvelling at the whiteness of English skins, thought their visitors to be re-incarnated men who had come from the pale world of shades. The fact that the visitors brought no women with them and managed to ignore the bare brown flesh they saw all around them supported that theory. But even more, it was ripe and lush summer; fish were plentiful, crops were ripening; food was easy to get. It was a pleasure to share it with visitors who brought excitement :and wonder mid tin dishes.

In the ten days that Ralegh spent in Virginia, he sowed peas, which grew more than an inch a day. He also persuaded two lusty warriors to return to England with him where he gave Ralegh a written report which Sir Walter, in turn, presented to the Queen. The news about pearls. grapes, the fertility of the soil and the friendliness of the natives was all very good. But to the critical eye, and the Queen had one, there were some disturbing overtones. Especially troubling was the matter of the continual civil wars in which the Indians seemed to be engaged. Their bloody feuds were characterized by treachery, surprise, broken faith, and perpetual hatreds. Barlow had intended to convey a picture of a land flowing with grape and money possessed by a gentle people who desired to trade and were extremely inept at it, the very thing England was looking for.   But there were also evidences that might have suggested more caution than Ralegh’s eager colonists ultimately displayed.

While the expedition was away, Ralegh had pursued his larger aims. He had a friend in France, Richard Hakluyt, who had known members of the French colonies and who, like Ralegh, had a passionate sense of mission about the new world. Ralegh therefore commissioned him to prepare a treatise which would persuade Elizabeth and her counselors that it was in England’s interests to make a nationwide effort in America comparable to that being made by Spain. Before Amadas and Barlow had returned, Hakluyt had finished his paper, and Ralegh immediately gave it to the Queen. It was called A Discourse on Western Planting. An American colony, Hakluyt argued, could make England a self-sufficient nation. Further, England had many idle men; here was a way to employ them. Colonists in North America would soon discover the Northwest Passage and the resulting trade with Cathay would make England prosperous. Hakluyt’s attitude toward the natives is both naive and ominous. He repeatedly insists that the people are gentle, amiable and obedient. “England will make every effort to trade peaceably with them, but if necessary she will force the Indians to surrender “the natural commodities of their lands.”

To interest Elizabeth in a national effort, Ralegh tempted her brilliantly. Would Her Majesty, the Virgin Queen, allow the new land to be called Virginia.[10] Elizabeth, naturally, was delighted, but she was too shrewd and skeptical to invest the pitifully small resources of her treasury in an American venture. Her country was full of ambitious young men, especially from Devon and Cornwall, who had plans which involved her kingdom in great risks and made substantial drains on he treasury. Let Ralegh manage the affair in America; she would see how things went.

Elizabeth also, for reasons best known to her, informed Ralegh that he would have to send someone else in charge of the expedition. He selected his cousin, Sir Richard Grenville, a man of fanatical courage, a most formidable captain. The ship’s company included other remarkable men. There was Ralph Lane, who was to be in charge when the colonists arrived. He was the Queen’s equerry and had commanded troops in Ireland and in the low countries. There was Thomas Cavendish, who was later to circumnavigate the globe, and there was Thomas Hariot, probably England’s best scientist, who was to make a survey of the plants, animals, and minerals of the new world.

On June 20, 1585, the expedition made landfall. As a result of poor navigation, the largest ship, the Tyger, sank. It was now too late to plant crops and the Tyger had carried most of the provisions on which the colonists were to have lived through the coming winter. They had food enough for only twenty days; they must then either live off the natives or starve.

On September 3, Ralph Lane sent a latter to Richard Hakluyt.[11] Everything that England imported from Spain, France, or Italy, he said, could be grown in America. And the people are “most courteous: and they needed English woolens. The air was wholesome; there was not one sick man.

To conclude, if Virginia had but horse and kine in some reasonable proportion, I dare assure myself, being inhabited with English, no realm in Christendom would be comparable to it.

Hariot played an important role, perhaps a decisive one, in the relations of the colonists with the natives. He showed the Indians some of the scientific inventions that were revolutionizing the technology of the Elizabethan world. When the Indians saw these things, they thought they “were rather the works of gods than men,” and Hariot concludes that it led the Indians to feel that God must especially love such a people to have taught them so much.[12]

Hariot does not tell us what he did to amaze the natives, but we know what could be done with various devices.[13] The perspective glass, a precursor of the telescope, could be set up in such a way that, buy concentrating the rays of the sun, it would start a fire several yards away. Further, one of the glasses was so made that if the viewer stood close, he would see things in their usual size and appearance. If he stepped back, however, the image would suddenly would “seem of a marvelous bigness.” While the wiroan was still shaking his head in disbelief, Hariot would shift the focus further outward until suddenly all the images would be reversed. People and animals would be standing with their head downward, their feet pointing straight up.

At these and other tricks, the Indians were properly amazed, although scarcely more so than Hariot’s own countrymen. Later, in England, Christopher Marlowe sophomorically proclaimed that Moses was only a “juggler” and that Thomas Hariot could do more than he. Marlowe’s point was that Moses, having been reared in sophisticated Egypt, had been able to perform “wonders” in the eyes of his simple Israelite countrymen just as Hariot had in America. As things turned out, it was fortunate that Hariot had astounded the natives.

For things soon began to go badly. The Indians, never having learned Puritan thrift, stored only enough maize to see them through the winter. Nothing except fear could induce them to part with their seed corn and it had to be a fear more terrible than that of starvation.

During the winter, Hariot, Lane, and a small group of soldiers traveled from village to village surveying the land and the people. They made an idealistic effort to live according to the spirit of Ralegh’s venture, to avoid Spanish cruelties and to win the natives by kindness. Naturally the Indians took every advantage of such a liberal policy and practised many “subtle devices.” The colonists, however, under the dissuasions of Hariot, never retaliated. And then Hariot thought he bean to perceive a pattern. Whenever the colonists practised non-retaliation, a strange sickness came upon the inhabitants of offending towns and many people died. Soon the Indians too discerned this pattern: the god of the white man, it seemed, had given him the skill to slay at distance without weapons.

Immediately the colonists slaughtered all the chiefs. Jehovah and Dagon had met again in Virginia.

A week later, Sir Francis Drake and an English fleet appeared and the English colonists dispiritedly decided to return to England with him. The new world had yielded neither gold mine nor pearl fishery. The children of nature had proved cunning and deadly, their instruction in the Christian religion superficial and empty. In one year the English had managed to make themselves and their religion despised as much as were the Spaniards further to the south. They had kidnapped Indians, robbed their fish weirs, spoiled their cornfields; and worst of all they had murdered in the name of Christ, the thing Parmenius had singled out as the essence of Spanish cruelty. No one had really meant it to he that way, but the vision was golden, the reality was savage, and between vision and reality there had fallen a fatal shadow.

A short while later an anonymous account said that the hand of God had come on the colonists for the outrages and cruelties which some of them had practised against the Indians.” And yet this same account showed no basic disillusionment; rather it concluded like a mournful travelogue by regretting that the colonists had left “this paradise of the world.” Twenty-three years Inter, when the Jamestown colonists were preparing to sail, Michael Drayton picked up that phrase and used it in his stirring Ode to the Virginian Voyage:

You brave heroic minds,

Worthy your country’s name,

That honor still pursue,

Go and subdue,

Whilst loitering hinds

Lurk here at home with shame.


And cheerfully at sea,

Success you still entice

To get the pearl and gold

And ours to hold,


Earth’s only paradise.

Visions are indestructible.

The finest thing to come out of the first English colony was Thomas Hariot’s report. He surveyed the trees, grasses, oil, deer hides, medicinal herbs, dyes and lumber. He was admirably reticent about precious metals, and was the first Englishman to write with intellectual respect of the Indian religion. The Indians believed in God, he said, in the immortality of the soul and in punishment and reward for a life of virtue or vice. In Hariot’s report, as in Sir Thomas More’s Utopia, a people using the light of natural religion, without special revelation, appeared to have perceived through a glass darkly, some central religious truths.

If there was to be profitable trade between the two nations, a commodity was needed which could be cheaply freighted and sold at a profit in England. Such a commodity existed and Hariot had described it. It was a medicinal herb, tobacco. Through the use of this herb, Hariot says, the Indians have avoided many diseases which afflict the English. And he explained how tobacco was used for sacrifice, to quiet storms and pacify the gods. When the Indians wished to dedicate new fish weir or when they had escaped some danger, they would throw tobacco up into the air, always with “strange gestures, stamping, sometimes dancing, clapping of hands, holding of hands, and staring up into the heavens, uttering therewithal, and chattering strange words and noises.”

When James of Scotland, the world’s leading authority on witchcraft, read that passage, he realized that tobacco was an agent of sorcery and he hardened his heart against the man who had been responsible for its popularity at Elizabeth’s court.

But Ralegh himself loved all the strange new things that came to him from America. Naturally his hot young heart would have liked gold and pearl and a passage to the Orient. But still, he was fascinated with tobacco and the potato and other American plants. He knew a place in Ireland, in the deep soil by the Blackwater River, where they just might grow. He had a silver pipe cast for himself and, in his usual manner, made it into his personal symbol. When he lighted it, the ladies would squeal and run away in pretended fright and an old servant allegedly threw water on him when he saw smoke pouring from Ralegh’s nostrils. Soon many of his countrymen were being strangely soothed and then captivated by the Indian medicine; they were willing to lay down an ounce of silver for n few dried leaves. America itself was still an alien land, still awaiting a people who would pay the price of exile for it.

Another of Ralegh’s ventures beyond the Pillars of Hercules aroused the English imagination and resulted in some brilliant literature. Back in 1584 when Hakluyt was trying to persuade Elizabeth to make a national effort in America, he had mentioned a glittering alternative to Virginia: the land of Guiana which lay between the Orinoco and Amazon rivers and stretched westward to the Andes mountains. Whoever colonized this land would drive an iron wedge between the Spanish empires of Peru and Mexico and would control the waterways into the interior. English warships based along this coast could choke off the flow of gold to Spain and could attack the Spanish-held islands and the fortified cities of the Spanish Main. The Spanish empire would then topple and the entire action would be financed by the inconceivable wealth of Guiana.

Two years after Hakluyt had written, some of Ralegh’s pirate ships, out looking for pirate gold, had captured a Spanish nobleman, Sarmiento. Ralegh liked him and in his courtly Elizabethan way entertained him in his home. From him, as he later wrote, first

had knowledge…of that might, rich, and beautiful Empire of Guiana, and of that great and golden city which the Spaniards call El Dorado and the naturals Manoa.

Eight years had passed since then. years filled with mighty events including the coming of the Armada. But Sarmiento’s story haunted Ralegh like a wild dream. In 1594 he finally asked for Letters Patent from the Crown authorizing him to explore and settle Guiana. He received them and on February 6, 1595, he stood out to sea. Six months later he was back in England, “withered and a beggar.” He had a few dubious gems and most of his men had brought home ore samples which were pronounced worthless by an officer of the Mint. Ralegh himself had dug some ore out of quartz with his dagger; this ore had been assayed by three refiners, including two officers of the Mint, and it was found to be fabulously rich.

But the calumniators were soon at work. Some said that Ralegh had never left England; he had spent the six months in Cornwall. Others said that he had sailed to the Barbary Coast and had traded there for some gold ore. To convince the Queen and his countrymen that he had gone to Guiana, Ralegh wrote an account which he called Discovery of the large, rich and beautiful Empire of Guiana. . . .[14] The late Bernard DeVoto considered this narrative to be the greatest piece of prose to come out of the English Renaissance; certainly it is one of the most imaginative and stirring adventure stories ever written.

What was the legend that hail lured Ralegh across the seas? He had heard accounts of the Incan empire, elaborately embroidered by Spanish historians. He had heard of those features of the Incan civilization which resembled More’s Utopia. By this time the Incan empire was desolated but not necessarily through the slaughters of Pizarro. Some of the Incas, it was thought, had fled eastward into the Andes mountains. At that point they became another lost tribe concerning which fact ends and fancy begins. Ralegh had both heard and read that a younger son of the Emperor of Peru had fled eastward from Eden, with several thousand warriors called Orejones. They had captured all of the land lying between the two great rivers and had founded a capital city called Manoa on a large inland lake known ;is the Lake of Parima. This eastward flight seemed to explain the puzzling fact that, despite all the gold ornaments and plates found in Peru, there were no gold mines that would account for such wealth. The Spaniard had found, quite literally, a mountain of silver, but all of his feverish search for gold over many decades toil yielded practically nothing. It was believed, therefore, that the gold mines must exist somewhere in the interior and the rivers of Guiana were the veins along which that golden stream had once flowed into the Incan empire.

The capital city, Manoa, received its Spanish name of El Dorado from one of the principal ceremonies of this ceremonious people. Ralegh had probably known something about it since he was a child. For old Martin Cockram, a Devon man, had been to Brazil, and he probably did talk to the boy Ralegh just about as it is imagined in Millais’ painting, The Boyhood of Ralegh. And Cockram could have told him of two rivers that ran for thousands of miles into a heartland that no man had ever seen; somewhere in that land, according to Columbus, were the Earthly Paradise and the Fountain of Life. In the bright forests there were orange and tawny wings; deer fed along the streams; and lithe panthers, dappled like sunlight on leaves, screamed in the deep jungle. Somewhere in that heartland was a golden city where men were ruled by just laws. Every year at the appointed time, the king anointed his body with balsam and then had fine gold dust blown over him until he shone like the sun he worshiped. Then El Dorado, the gilded one, his hands filled with emeralds and amethysts, would dive into the sacred lake, itself as blue and pure as a sapphire.

Ralegh was attracted by the prospect of uniting forces and destinies with these civilized Peruvians. Good minds are almost as fascinating as gold mines; the combination is irresistible. In Guiana he would find a people with whom he could deal rationally, who would understand and appreciate English law, English arts and the English Bible. They would not be artful savages like Pemisapan and his Virginia warriors. The English and Incan empires would have much to give one another. Marco Polo, in Cathay, had discovered a civilization to match the brilliance of the Venetian state. Ralegh probably hoped to do no less.

Alone of Englishmen, George Chapman caught Ralegh’s vision and expressed it in an epic song of Guiana (De Guiana Carmen Epicum) :

Guiana, whose rich feet are mines of gold,

Whose forehead knocks against the roof of stars,

Stands on her tip-toes at fair England looking,

Kissing her hand, bowing her mighty breast,

And every sign of all submission making,

To be her sister and the daughter both

Of our most sacral maid.

The daughter and sister of England. Manoa and London, a mingling of laws, arts, culture and wealth. That was what Ralegh wanted.

Little was known of the golden city. Two men claimed to have been there. Ralegh had read their accounts and the narratives of the Spanish historians about the Incan empire. From these latter he extrapolated. If their accounts were true of the ancient empire they must also be true of the new kingdom in Manoa. Those accounts claimed that the Inca had dishes and vessels of gold and silver in his house, that he had giant statues of gold, each worth at least 100,000 pound s sterling. “I know,” Ralegh wrote to Robert Cecil, “that in Manoa these are store of these.”[15]

And what really sent the imagination soaring in the Spanish account was a “garden of pleasure” which the emperor was said to have built on a pleasant island. There he had counterfeited in gold everything that lived or grew in his country. There were beasts, birds, trees, herbs, fishes, flowers, all imitated in gold and silver, all life size and cunningly wrought, “an invention and magnificence until then never seen,” according to Ralegh.

And the Spaniards believed enough of all this to have risked much toil and some treasure in pursuit of the fabled city. Finally it appeared that one Spaniard had found it. His name was Juan Martinez, master of the munitions to Diego Ordas who was a Knight of the Order of Santiago and a diligent searcher for El Dorado. Ordas had sailed 1117 the Orinoco River to Morequito, a native village at the juncture of the Orinoco and Caroni rivers. At Morequito, through some accident, the entire store of powder was burned and this meant that the expedition of Ordas was finished. Martinez was held responsible and ordered executed. There was protest from the other soldiers, however, and finally Juan of the ill-hap was set adrift in a canoe without food or arms upon the swift current of the uncharted Orinoco.

Some natives found him drifting alone and, having never seen white men before, they carried him into the interior “to be wondered at.” He was passed along from town to town, ever deeper into the jungle until he came to the borders of Manoa. At the border he was blindfolded and led along for fifteen days until he came to the gates of a city. There the blindfold was removed and he was led toward the Emperor’s palace. The city was so large that it took him a day and a half to get there. He was entertained for several months in the Golden City and finally sued for permission to leave. His suit was granted and he was laden with 311 the gold he could carry. When he came again to the border country the Orenoqueponi Indians, he said, took all of his gold except for two gourds which were filled with curiously wrought golden beads. He brought these and his story back to the Spanish Main. Later, when he lay dying, Martinez swore to the truth of his adventure and gave the gold beads to the church under the wise condition that continued prayers would be said for his soul.

Martinez did not entirely invent his story. He had heard legends which circulated throughout Guiana and these legends must have had some dim and vague basis in historical fact. It is difficult for us, as it was for Ralegh, to believe that a devout and dying Catholic would lie to this confessor. But whereas Ralegh conclude that he must therefore have told the truth, most men would be inclined to think that fear and shame and a humiliating sojourn in the jungles and villages of Guinea had done something to the man’s mind, ion which reality and fantasy were thereafter fused.

One other man said he had been to Manoa, but he too was a lone survivor. “I only am escaped alone to tell thee,” became the theme of the Spanish search for Manoa. From these stories and from his study of the Spanish expeditions that had failed to find the golden city, Ralegh came to believe that he knew exactly where Manoa was. He must sail up the Orinoco to its junction with the Caroni. There at the village of Morequito, he would find Topiawari, the new cacique. He would win his confidence and the chief, in turn, would show him a trail around the Caroni cataract. Once on top of the scarp from which the Caroni fell he would be within a dew days’ march of one of the earth’s mighty nations (see fig 5). That nation, by wit or valor, he meant to win for England.

And there were other things beyond that scarp; wonders in Guiana were endless. Beyond the Caroni, on one of its branches, said Ralegh, there dwelt

a nation of people, whose heads appear not above their shoulders; which though it may be thought a mere fable, yet for mine own part, I am resolved it is true, because every child in the provinces of Aromaia and Canuri affirms the same: they are called Ewaipanoma: they are reported to have their eyes in their shoulders, and their mouths in the middle of their breasts, and … a long train of hair growth backward between their shoulders.

Ralegh was not a fool; he had interviewed a number of people who swore that they had seen these monsters. But no one in England appears to have believed the story except that beautiful creation of Shakespeare’s imagination, the fair Desdemona. When the formidable Moor came to court her, he told her of the wonders Ralegh had heard about in Guiana and she was fascinated by the story, among others, of men” whose heads/ Do grow beneath their shoulders.”

And there were more wonders. The Amazon River , as everyone knew, was named for those wild and lovely warriors who dwelt on its southern bank. Ralegh wanted to find out the truth about these women and he finally found a man who had been there. (Guiana would have been wonderful land for lawyers; they could have found an eyewitness to anything.) These women, he learned, refrained from the company of men except for one month during the year, the month of April, he believed. In that month when it was best to be in England and in Amazonia, the kings of the border would gather for their intriguing ritual. Once suitably paired off, the border kings and the Amazons would feast, dance, and drink wine, their party growing in gaiety as the moon waxed. When the moon waned and died, all returned to their own countries (fagged out, one would think) to await the results. All the women who gave birth to sons sent them to the borderlands to be with their fathers; those who bore girls nursed and nourished them. In the classic myths of the Amazons it had always been said that the women cut off their right breasts in order that they might better hurl the spear and shoot the bow. “This,” says Ralegh, “I do not find to be true. ” He was obviously a man who appreciated symmetry. And there was great store of gold plates in Amazonia, that much Ralegh knew, although somehow, in such a setting, even gold seems superfluous.

And he saved his best legend for the last. Antonio Berreo, the governor of Trinidad, had confessed to him that in the temples of Peru there had been found many ancient prophecies. One of these said that Inglatierra would some day come to Guiana and restore the Incas to liberty. I protest before the Majesty of God, says Ralegh, that it is true.

Ralegh’s expedition made its way up the Orinoco River to the town of Morequito where he found Topiawari just as he had planned. After he had gained the cacique’s friendship, Ralegh asked him the question on which everything depended. Pointing to the mountains rising to the westward, he asked who lived beyond the high escarpment. The old cacique sighed deeply and said that in his father’s lifetime a mighty people had come from the west. They wore large coats, he said, and hats of crimson color. They were called Orejones and they were as numberless as the leaves on the trees.

It was everything that Ralegh had come to hear. For three weeks, rowing through steaming jungles, past villages of naked Indians with matted hair and “villainous low foreheads,” lie had nourished himself with the vision of Manoa. Now he believed himself within reach of the Incan warriors, an “appareled people.”

Even a less enthusiastic explorer than Ralegh would have believed the old man, for he spoke the truth. But it was his truth, and the dialogue was between men of different worlds who spoke different sounds and thought in different images. At the head of the Caroni River was a great savannah which, in the spring floods, was completely inundated. Then it resembled a lake and that was the basis for the stories of the Lake of Parima. And it was true that a tribe from the highlands of Guiana had extended its frontiers at the expense of the Morequitos whom they slaughtered. It was also true that they were somewhat more advanced than those whom they conquered and spoiled. But Ralegh was measuring the cacique’s reply in terms of an imaginative vision he had carried from the Thames, and so the two men completely misunderstood one another. As things turned out , it mattered little anyway for the river rose alarmingly, swollen by heavy rains, and Ralegh returned to his ships without ever having penetrated the highlands where he believed Manoa to be.

When he returned to England, his expedition a failure, Richard Hakluyt wrote another pamphlet urging the Queen to support a new expedition, and George Chapman wrote of Ralegh’s sustaining “pain, charge, and peril” for the good of his country:

Then most admired sovereign, let your breath

Go forth upon the waters, and create

A golden world in this our iron age.”[16]

There it was again; the dream that wouldn’t die. But Elizabeth was old and tired; she knew that she was not Jehovah and she did not believe in golden worlds. And there were others, children of the world, who saw the disparity between the golden city and the jungle village, between the children of the golden age and the malnourished savages whose intellectual horizons would scarcely give an Englishman room in which to spend one restless night. Could they ever be harmonized with one another, these hopes and these disasters?

So far we have seen the vision and the reality in Newfoundland, in Virginia and in Guiana. There is one more American setting that occupied a special place in the minds and literature of Englishmen – the Bermuda Islands. Lying eastward from the Gulf of Mexico, they were in the track of the hurricanes and were especially dangerous the rocky reefs that surrounded them: the Spanish sailors had named the Isle of Devils. They were, it was said “feared and avoided of all sea travelers live, above any other place in the world.”[17] Portuguese sailors believed that demons lived in the American islands and on the mainland and that they sometimes lured vessels to their destruction. Ralegh knew of the reputation of the Bermudas and on his voyage to Guiana had avoided them. “The Bermudas,” he wrote :are a hellish sea for thunder, lightning, and storms.”

In May of 1609, a fleet of nine ships and 500 colonists under Sir Thomas Gates and Sir George Somers set out to strengthen John Smith’s Virginia colony. On July 25, the flagship of the fleet, the Sea-Adventure, was separated from the rest of the vessels by a storm. She had sprung a leak, had taken on nine feet of water in her hold and was in imminent peril of swamping in the heavy seas. n ~ The crew, for hours, bailed, pumped, and worked like madmen, but the winds drove the ship toward the shore. Three leagues from a sandy bay, she struck a rocky ledge. All aboard called upon God to receive their souls and helplessly awaited the great breakers that would pound the ship to kindling and drown them all.

And then there was a miracle. The ship was driven between two large rocks where she stuck upright and fast as if she were in drydock in the Thames. And the billows which should have “shivered her in pieces” suddenly became calm. The colonists, “with extreme joy and amazedness, “ were able to unship their goods and arrived on shore without the loss of a man or merchandise.   One of them wrote, “It pleased our merciful God to make even this hideous and hated place, both the place of our safety and the means of our deliverance.”

Because these islands had never known man, the wildlife behaved strangely. If the men would halloo, sea-birds by the hundreds would come would come flocking around, some even landing on their shoulders. When eaten, they proved as tasty as partridges. And then the mariners remembered that God once before had led a band of his people through a watery maze in the Red Sea and then had fed them with birds. As the castaways ate the delicate pineapple, the rich pomegranate, and enjoyed a climate that seemed to be everlasting spring, they reflected on a number of strange analogies. The Bermudas lay along a latitude that almost exactly that of the city of Jerusalem. And cedars grew on that island as they had once grown in Lebanon. But the principal wonder, enough to fire any man’s imagination, was the paradox that the islands of devils had proved to be islands of grace and that the path to certain death had led to a new and richer life.

The vision of a magic island, a new garden, which was a refuge for the innocent, was strengthened as persecutions or the Puritans were intensified ill England. James I had said that the Puritans would conform or he would harry them out of the land. After his death, Archbishop Laud was doing his best to accomplish o accomplish one or the other of those objectives, and soon Puritans were leaving for America in increasing numbers. In 1633, George Herbert, himself a devout and saintly Anglican, wrote in sorrow,

Religion stands on tip-toe in our land,

Ready to pass to the American strand.

And of all places in America, the Bermudas most powerfully symbolized the hidden garden where suffering man could be restored and refreshed. Around 1630, the Reverend John Oxenbridge fled the Laudian persecutions and lived for a time in the Bermuda Islands. When he returned to England he lived at Eton College where a young poet named Andrew Marvell boarded at his home. And Marvell wrote a poem about the Bermudas that brilliantly captured the imaginative vision of those islands. But, as usual, there was a reality to be reckoned with and we need to see the reality before we consider the poem.

After the wreck, when Captain Somers’ men were safely landed, they soon became lazy. “The ease and plenty of the place begot a content and a carelessness in the men.” Some of them, like lotus eaters, saw no reason ever to leave those islands. The company did finally build two pinnaces and sailed to Virginia, but Somers carried in his heart an urgent desire to the Bermudas. Finally he did. He died there and his body was carried hack to England.

Three men, at that time, were left behind at their own request. These three, true to the spirit of the new world, decided to set up an ideal commonwealth “with equal and brotherly regency,” and for awhile it seemed to work. They arose in the fresh mornings and cleared ground, planted grain and cut down timber for their cabins. They lived pleasantly and idyllically together. And then, by chance, one of them found a 190-pound lump of ambergris, the largest that man had ever known. This “gray amber,” a secretion of the sperm whale, was used in Europe for the making of perfumes. Immediately the three men knew that they were potentially rich and with that knowledge, the troubles began. They fell into violent contentions to see who would command; they kicked, hit and even bit one another and, as a climax of silliness, challenged one another to a duel with swords. In short, they acted like madmen, like savages deprived of reason.

After two years a new governor and some colonists arrived. The three castaways tried to conceal the ambergris, but knowledge of the find leaked out, causing much dissension. Back in England, the captain of the ship which had transported the new governor plotted to get the gray amber and his plan included, if necessary, the murder of all the colonists. Whatever finally happened to the gray amber I have been unable to discover.

[1]Canto XXVI, Prose trans., by H.R. Huse.

[2] Howard Mumford Jones, O Strange New World (New York, 1964), p. 4.

[3] In the dialogues of Critias and Timaeus.

[4] Here I have followed the account in the first chapter of Strange New World.

[5] Paradise Lost, I, 685 ff.

[6] Roger Bigelow Merriman, The Rise of the Spanish Empire (New York, 1925), III, 548.

[7] This ode is reproduced in William Gilbert Gosling, The Life of Sir Humphrey Gilbert (London, 1911), pp. 216ff.

[8] Both poems are reproduced in Louis B. Wright, The Elizabethan’s America (Harvard University Press), 1965, pp. 94-95.

[9] Captain Arthur Barlow’s report has been reprinted by the Hakluyt Society, second series, No. 104 (London, 1952) and has been brilliantly edited and annotated by David B. Quinn in The Roanoke Voyages (1584-90). It has also been reproduced by Wright in The Elizabethan’s America.

[10] Reprinted in The Elizabethan’s America.

[11] Reprinted in The Elizabethan’s America.

[12] Our information about the English colonists and the first year in America comes from primarily two documents: Thomas Hariot, A Brief and true report of he New Found Land of Virginia, which has been reprinted many times, and an account by Ralph Lane, reprinted in Richard Hakluyt’s Principal Navigation, Voyages, Traffiques, and Discoveries of the English Nation (Glasgow, 1914(, Vol. VIII.

[13] For example, see William A. Bourne, A Treatise on the Properties and Qualities of Glasses for Optical Purposes (London, 1583), reproduced in Rara Mathematica, ed. J. O. Halliwell (London, 1839).

[14] This narrative has been reproduced many times and is readily available. The most brilliant edition, with many supporting documents, is that of V.T. Harlow.

[15] Ralegh’s letters are collected in Vol. II of the Life by Edward Edwards.

[16] From De Guiana Carmen Epicum.

[17] William Strachey, A True

Prayer of Dedication for the University of Utah Art and Architecture Center


Editor’s Introduction:  On September 29, 1971, the University of Utah opened a new center for art and architecture.  Jack Adamson was asked to deliver a dedicatory address.  The following prayer is what he offered:

O God, first known to our fathers through the harmony and beauty of they creation; O God, who desired that our fathers should worship in the beauty of holiness, we ask this day thy blessing on our buildings which are dedicated to a continued search for the beautiful and the enduring.

Thy creative spirit is a winged and independent spirit, blowing where the wind listeth, and we who shall work or study here pray for the same independence of spirit, the freedom for each to express his personal vision. And then we ask for a greater freedom, that inner freedom that comes from an honest searching of ourselves. Let us be the first to know our own corruptions and evasions and surrenders.

Let us remember that the profoundest artistic visions have been built on love, that many of the noble dead whom we remember in the dedication of such a building burned with compassion for mankind and some with the pure, intense and intellectual love of God. We too wish to build our art on a base that resists time. Be to us, God of our fathers, the fire and the rain; stretch and shrink us; send us sweetness and pain and give us the courage to be vulnerable. What we are not, let us not pretend to be. What we are let us discover and express.

Thou has said that no building is sacred unless sanctity be brought to it; so we believe that this building matters little apart form the men and women who built it and who will use it. So bless our labors that in years to come it will be said that once the shadow of the divine wings fell upon this house, that men may feel awe and mystery and joy in what this building may become. We pledge our integrity and beseech thy grace; bless us now, Amen.

Need Our Sustained Posture of Defense Endanger Our Freedoms?

Editor’s Introduction:  In the late 1950s and early 1960s as Cold War tensions grew and Sputnik resonated as a threat to U.S. security, Americans were grappling with a new phenomenon:  the rise of the “military-industrial complex” (in Eisenhower’s phrase) and the maintenance for the first time in U.S. history of a large, standing military force.  In this speech, Jack explores the implications of this new phenomenon for American civil liberties, while placing it in historical context.  As he observes,

Our founding fathers inherited a mistrust of militarism that almost bordered on the pathological. Much of the Bill of Rights was a direct result of the American experience of a tyranny in their former homeland, an invasion of their civil liberties that would have been impossible if the King of England had not had a standing army to enforce his decrees and prevent resistance to his unlawful acts.

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Need Our Sustained Posture of Defense Endanger Our Freedoms?

By Jack H. Adamson

Dean, College of Letters and Science and Associate Professor of English, University of Utah

(Speech delivered at the Great Issues Concerning Freedom, Wednesday, November 22, 1961, Salt Lake City, Utah)

From the beginning, the American was doomed to come to terms with “bigness.” He was never to know the small, communal intimacies of a Swiss canton where borders and boundaries continually made precise and secure definitions of property, of government and of the possibilities of life itself. He came to a land that was too big to manage. Again and again he tried to limit the scope of his problem by declaring that the boundary of this nation ought to be the Allegheny Mountains, the Great American Desert (whatever that was supposed to be), or the Rocky Mountains; but as fast as he absorbed and came to terms with Ohio or Oregon, some adventurer wished to purchase Alaska, annex Louisiana or conquer Texas. The reasons for the latter, especially, continue to prove puzzling.

In the nineteenth century the industrial revolution begot a similar bigness in corporations and industry. The intricacies, needs and potentialities of big business helped bring on big government which, although a much newer phenomenon, begins to seem to many people to be a kind of Leviathan of the deep, ready to devour everything else. Bigness in industry and bigness in government both have called, and continue to call, for restrictions and limits, new rules and a new set of attitudes, for changes in laws and in our mode and practice of government.

But the newest “bigness” in American life is in the sphere of the military establishment. Here the problem is scarcely ten years old and therefore it has not begun to engender the severe reactions which, in the past, have arisen to meet the shifts of power in business and government. But such reaction is bound to come; in my opinion it is already overdue. This altogether unprecedented new source and focus of power in the military establishment will overflow and fill up other areas of our national life unless, by legislation or by an effort of the national will we consciously erect new barriers or revitalize older attitudes which will contain this new power structure in ways which accord with the history of our nation, the intent of its founders and the spirit of its laws. And we must begin to do this now, for in recent times the military establishment has begun to depart, in certain radical ways, from its traditional functions.

In his final message to the nation before leaving office, President Eisenhower said,

This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence–economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail 😮 comprehend its grave implications. In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

Before I discuss further the implications of this new power structure, I should like to place the role of the military into some kind of historical perspective. Our founding fathers inherited a mistrust of militarism that almost bordered on the pathological. Much of the Bill of Rights was a direct result of the American experience of a tyranny in their former homeland, an invasion of their civil liberties that would have been impossible if the King of England had not had a standing army to enforce his decrees and prevent resistance to his unlawful acts. Because of their historical memories, the legislators of the state of Pennsylvania stated in the Bill of Rights of their constitution “that standing armies are dangerous to liberty, and ought not to be kept up in time of peace.” A similar declaration was embodied in the constitution of the state of North Carolina. The framers of the constitution for the United States tended to be of a similar mind and they were inclined to try to provide for the common defense with a militia, with volunteers, and to reject the idea of a standing army. Further, they made it a part of the Bill of Rights that every colonist was entitled to have his own musket or squirrel rifle; that is, to bear arms in his own defense.

This tendency to reject a standing army disturbed the leading Federalist,
Alexander Hamilton, and he argued the case for a small but permanent army in the Federalist papers. He based his case on a single, persuasive, overriding
reason. Whatever dangers such an army might bring, and Hamilton acknowledged
that they were considerable, the dangers were even greater without it. I think that he was right then, and I think that what he said is still true today. We cannot, at the moment, in the face of the threat of force from the Communist bloc, abolish or even seriously diminish our military establishment. For the moment, and probably for the foreseeable future we must live with it. But we must try to live with it as wisely and as warily as possible.

Hamilton knew well enough why the colonists rejected the idea of a Federal army. The colonists, he said, remembered how Charles II and James II had used a standing army to deprive their ancestors of their civil liberties. Hamilton’s explanation is partly true, but as Robert Frost has said, “There is always some-
thing more”. And the something more in this case was the historical events Hamilton alluded to and also a tradition and a vision.

The tradition and the vision concern the role of the English yeoman archer in the great battles of Poitiers, Crecy and Agincourt in the 14th and 15th centuries. In these battles, the massed chivalry of France, noblemen encased in
armor and mounted on chargers, advanced with insolent and arrogant pride against relatively small numbers of English freemen, yeomen, archers, whose right arms could draw their bows of yew the full length of yard-long arrows. These yeomen loosed shaft after shaft, first at a distance in a silvery arc and then at closer range, with a deadly hissing accuracy that penetrated buckler and breastplate, that overthrew horse and rider, Unarmored and with only improvised fortifications, they won England’s great battles by the strength of their arm and the keenness of their eye. And when they returned to England, they did not return
as serfs. Men who had proved their manliness and courage on foreign fields were not to be enslaved at home, When the vision of the yeoman archer became embodied in the legends of Robin Rood, it became clear that this newly won independence was the most treasured thing in the life of the yeoman and that it made him the equal of the Sheriff of Nottingham or any of the nobles of the land. Although the legends were historically false, they did not falsify the vision of the people of England who came to rely not upon large military establishments but upon the freedman who owned and worked his own land and who wore across his shoulders a weapon which he could afford or even make himself and one which he had so brilliantly mastered,

This ancient dream continued to animate the American colonists, only here
it was the yeoman farmer whom Jefferson counted on to keep alive the spirit of freedom. Here it was the freeman, not with the bow and arrow, but with the musket, the flintlock, and later the rifle, and no one was able to convince the American people or the Congress for over a hundred years that the free man bearing his own arms was not this nation’s best defense. But the dream, alas, ultimately died, the vision faded into the common light of day. In fact the very tenacity with which we clung to this dream, as Hamilton once remarked and as I shall demonstrate, on more than one occasion very nearly cost us our freedom.

In addition to this dream, there were perhaps three historical events which, more than any others, haunted the minds of the American colonists. The first concerned Oliver Cromwell’s New Model army. A: the beginning of 1647, the English
Civil War had been won by the Puritan party. The vanquished Royalist army, the army of King Charles I, was disbanded, but what of the victorious army? The
Puritan parliament proposed to disband it, but without adequate guarantees for long arrears of pay and with no plan for the absorption of the veterans into the civil life of the nation. Of course there was always Ireland and a bright Parliamentarian proposed that the victorious veterans might go fight in that unhappy land under some different commanders. There the rate of attrition from plague, ague and Celtic kerns might be sufficiently high that the Puritan parliament could cease to worry about the Puritan veterans. But the Army had other ideas. Deeply resentful of the manifest ingratitude of the nation, the Army began a kind of grass roots political movement that had enormous implications for
the future. First, each regiment appointed two political representatives who
were called “agitators” and these agitators were instructed to secure two things. First, of course, the back pay, and second, “liberty of conscience”. As one writer of the time said, “Some of the soldiers do not stick to call the Parliament men tyrants.” It was Cornet Joyce, in direct collusion with the military agitators, who seized the person of the King. In June, 1647, army units advanced and threatened the city of London, demanding as condition for their withdrawal that eleven Presbyterians should be expelled from Parliament. These eleven voluntarily withdrew in order to save the city But this was only the beginning. Sensing that a majority in the duly elected Parliament was hostile to it, the Army, under the leadership of Colonel Pride, conducted a purging of the Parliament known as “Pride’s Purge.” In this purge, over one hundred members of Parliament who were “favorable to the King”, which meant that they were opposed to his execution, were expelled from Parliament, and the King was ultimately executed, And so Englishmen learned something about a standing army which they and their colonial descendants never forgot that no element of civil government, neither the Parliament elected under the majesty of law, nor the sacred person of the sovereign, could withstand the threat of force which a standing army embodied. They learned, for the first time, how necessary it is, that the civil should control the military.

Their second lesson came about forty years later under James II. A rebellion by the Duke of Monmouth had been made an excuse for a large increase
in the standing army. When James II came to the throne he demanded more troops and Parliament refused him, Their fear of a standing army was greater than their loyalty to the King. Nevertheless, James was able to use his army to intimidate the courts and to make them entirely subservient to his will, to destroy academic freedom in Oxford University and to attempt, although with less success, to destroy it at Cambridge. But what was most terrifying of all, he used the threat represented by the standing army to attempt to impose religious views and opinions For this latter, especially, his people never forgave him and ultimately they overthrew him. The lesson embodied in this entire affair was one of the principal political maxims which the Colonists carried across the sea, and the maxim was, “Standing armies always threaten civil liberties.”

There was a third historical memory which the colonists never relinquished and that was the famous “Popish Plot” which occurred during the reign of Charles II, in 1678 to be exact, This whole plot demonstrated an extremely unsavoury condition which existed in late seventeenth-century England: the reliance of the government on paid political informers, that is men who, for money, reported to the authorities, their suspicions, conjectures or facts, about other men whose political views were considered unreliable.

This plot was the invention of such a paid political informer, Titus Oates, who was, says the historian J. R. Green, “One of those vile imposters who are always thrown to the surface at times of great public agitation.” The instability of this manes personality is shown by the fact that he was initially a Baptist minister who became a Catholic convert. He entered a Jesuit house and was expelled for misconduct, He thereupon made an affidavit saying that the Catholics were going to kill King Charles II and subvert the Protestant religion in England. This was heady stuff and those who wished to believe it promptly did so. The entire nation might not have got too excited if it hadn’t been for the remarkable slaying of Sir Edmondsbury Godfrey, the magistrate before whom Oates had given his information. This magistrate was found in a field near London with a sword run through his heart by some person or persons unknown. A panic ensued and with it there came a total suspension of civil liberties for a substantial minority of the English nation. Two thousand Catholics were placed in prison and a proclamation ordered every Catholic to leave London. This extraordinary abrogation of Civil Rights probably has no parallel [in the English-speaking world] until 1941 when the United States government excluded the Japanese from the West Coast. The Commanding General’s final report referred to all individuals of Japanese descent as “subversive” as belonging to “an enemy race” whose “racial strains are undiluted.” So it was in 17th century England. An exclusion bill was passed in Parliament which prohibited any Catholic from holding a seat in either house of Parliament and this bill remained in force for over a century and a half.

But soon this plot began to wane, as plots based on hysteria rather than fact inevitably must Suspicions concerning the reality of the plot were voiced
in Parliament and so the government did a remarkable thing. It offered a reward for anyone coming forward with evidence to support the plot. A man named Bedloe came forward and took the money, In exchange for it he swore to knowledge of a plot for the landing of a Catholic army which was to engage in a general massacre of Protestant civilians. Naturally Titus Oates felt the need to re-
store his own position as chief informer. Consequently he charged the Queen with intent to murder her husband, I thought that hysteria and falsehood could scarcely go further until I read, recently, of a group in Phoenix who have charged Senator Goldwater with being a Communist and then I felt that I knew what my own English ancestors must once have felt and thought.

As a result of this new information a proclamation enjoined the arrest of every Catholic in the realm and then a series of judicial murders began which soon horrified the conscience of the English people and brought them to their senses. Then there ensued a revulsion against the whole device of paid informers and political police that left a mark on the literature as well as the laws of the 18th century. For example Jonathan Swift, in the first book of Gulliver’s Travels tells us that the people of Lilliput have fortified their state against informers. If a man is accused falsely of a crime against the state, his accuser is to be put to death immediately. The lands and goods of the false accuser are then to be sold and the proceeds given to the one falsely accused.

And so the framers of our Constitution carefully worked safeguards into the Bill of Rights and into our legal system in order that the abuses to which political police and paid informers are so peculiarly subject, might be avoided and the individual protected. It is well to remind ourselves, first of the abuse of civil liberties embodied in paid informers and political police, and then of the safeguards which were devised. First, the political informer may often be an unstable personality given to fanaticism and excess, Second, such a person, led by a profit motive, may completely ignore the rules of fair play and the spirit of the due process of law, Finally, the charges of such persons may prove extremely useful to demagogues and extremely dangerous to minorities.

The safeguards, if observed, were adequate. There are actually many more provisions than I shall name, but four of them seem to be particularly important.

  1. No one is to be punished unless his conduct is in violation of a law in force at the time his acts are committed. Ex post facto laws are incompatible with civil liberties,
  2. The accused must, as the most elementary demand of justice, be apprised of the nature of the charge made against him and the
    identity of his accuser,
  3. The accused must be allowed to confront his accuser in open court, to examine the accuser, witnesses and materials used against him.  If there are reluctant witnesses, the court may use its authority
    to bring them in.
  4. Finally, there is a presumption of innocence until proof of guilt is established by due process of law, not by suspicion, not by hysteria, not by association, not by prejudice but by due process of the fullness of justice and the majesty of law.

And so if I may conclude this historical excursion, I would affirm without hesitation that the two most potent fears of the Colonial American were his fear of a standing army and his fear of the abrogation of the due process of
law. It remains to be seen how we, the descendants of that American, have
managed to preserve and foster the safeguards he erected against these fears.

With the kind of background which I have presented, I should now like to examine the two military systems that faced one another in the Revolutionary War. The British Army had long since lost the vision of the freeman who had left the plow to take up the bow. It was officered by the younger sons of noble or wealthy families who had purchased their commissions. The enlisted men could roughly be divided into two groups. The first were the mercenaries upon whom American romanticism has poured so much scorn. They were men, for the most part, who chose a military career because none better was open to them and they proved, in many engagements, to be superior to volunteers, as professionals are always better than amateurs The other enlisted men constituted the Royal Army, the standing army which the colonists refused to have in America, the professional long-service soldiers and seamen who could be hired, threatened or impressed into doing the nation’s fighting.

The Americans who faced them were Colonial citizens. Many of them had served in their local militias As is well known, the Massachusetts colony resorted to the famous device of the Minute Men. The youngest and most active on the militia rolls were placed in special companies to be ready at a minute’s notice; the more sedentary warriors were consigned to “alarm companies”, to be used only if things were truly alarming.

Note the irony here. The American forces embodied the old British dream of the yeoman landholder resisting invasion; the British, on the other hand, with their “lobsterbacks” or redcoats, embodied the idea of the professional army. And so if dreams come true, we should easily have won. But the fact is that the British had a real advantage that Washington was soon to discover. Their professional force was enlisted for a long period of service; the Colonials on the other hand were volunteers who had enlisted only for the “campaign.” That meant the summer fighting season and their terms were scheduled to run out at the end of the year. The Congressional committee which reviewed this alarming situation assumed that it could get these troops to re-enlist. It was never more mistaken. The troops went home as their terms ran out, and often took with them the muskets and equipment so desperately needed. This is what Hamilton meant when he said that our fear of a professional army had almost cost us our liberty. And this led Washington to formulate a new philosophy concerning military service. He spoke of the “extraordinary and reprehensible conduct” of these men who went home when their enlistment was up without further regard to the safety of the nation. Toward the end of the war he asked for a regular long-service army, like that of the British, and larger enlistment bonuses on the grounds that “interest” and not “patriotism” could bring men to serve for the long pull. He noted further that the original passion for liberty seemed to have faded and that self-interest remained the only motive to which the state could appeal in securing the duty of its citizens. The dream of the yeoman-soldier was already slightly tarnished. General Washington said one other thing which was portentous for the future. Shortly after taking command in 1775, he was presented with the case of an officer who wished to resign his commission because he believed that he had not been given sufficient rank. Washington wrote him.

In the usual contests of Empire and Ambition, the conscience of a soldier has so little share that he may very properly insist upon his claims of Rank, but in such a cause as this where the Object is neither Glory nor extent of territory, but a defense of all that is dear and valuable in Life surely every post ought to be deemed honorable in which a Man can serve his Country.

The British regular, in other words, fought for empire; the Colonial citizen for “all that was dear and valuable in life.” If this were so, then surely the state had a military claim on every citizen. The whole democratization of war is implicit in Washington’s statement and that democratization, the total claim of the state upon its citizens for military service is now with us. Universal Military Training is the logical result of Washington’s position.

There is certainly one good side to this which we might mention in passing. The citizen who has served his country in order to defend all that is dear and valuable in life has a claim upon the state. And to this fact a number of veteran’s benefits may be traced such as the GI Bill or free hospitalization for veterans who have service-incurred disabilities. But even more important, the service rendered by the Japanese and Negro citizens in World War II and in the Korean war gave them inescapable claims upon the state. I personally consider this far more important than anything the courts have done in the elimination of racial discrimination.

There now begins a pattern in American military affairs which I would like to trace out. First the American people historically rejected Hamilton’s plea for a professional army and tried to get by with militia. These militia could
not be used for foreign adventures but only to “repel invasion.” Further their
enlistment period was for three months only. The disaster suffered by Arnold
and Montgomery at Quebec on December 31, 1775, was largely owing to the fact that they had to engage battle before they were ready in order not to lose
their troops whose time was to expire the next day on January 1. Again at
the end of 1776, Washington lost almost all of his troops because their enlistment was up and had to build a new Army in the face of the enemy.

During the War of 1812, the British were attempting to take New Orleans, the Federal Government, with no army of its own, called upon the states for
their militiamen. Massachusetts attempted to refuse on the ground that her
troops could only be called to repel invasion and Massachusetts wasn’t being
invaded, The Governor of Vermont sent his regrets with the same excuse.

During the Mexican war in 1845, Zachary Taylor got 10,000 militiamen from Louisiana and Texas. When their three months were up they left him. General Winfield Scott, in 1847, came to know firsthand what General Washington had once undergone. When he climbed to the plateau of Mexico and began to ready the final battle, his volunteer units went home and he had to suspend operations until they could be replaced. The green and untried replacements ultimately suffered heavy losses.

This pattern continued during the Civil War. The Volunteer Corps of 75,000 men went home after three months. New York’s 7th Regiment went home immediately after the Battle of Bull Run, not because they were cowards but because their time was up, just as I came home from Korea in 1952 because I had served my hitch. Then came World War I and the Americans still refused to abandon the militia or volunteer system. And by now this refusal was becoming dangerous. Both France and Germany kept some 800,000 men in their armies in peacetime. When mobilization was complete, the Germans had 1,750,000 men in the field. And so military men began to ask if we should not democratize war in America, make it the duty of every able-bodied man. In 1914, Wilson replied in the negative.

It is said in some quarters that we are not prepared for war. What is meant by being prepared? Is it meant that we are not ready upon brief notice to put a nation in the field, a nation of men trained to arms? Of course we are not ready to do that; and we shall never be in time of peace so long as we retain our present political principles and institutions!

He then continued in the language of the old American dream, the dream of the yeoman-farmer and his squirrel rifle.

We must depend in every time of national peril not upon a standing army nor yet a reserve army, but upon a citizenry trained and accustomed to arms.*..

On June 3, 1916, there was a National Defense Acts Thirteen days later, the entire National Guard of the United States was called out under its provisions, and for the first time in American military history, they came not as three-months volunteers who could only repel invasion, nor as volunteers serving a limited term, but as conscripts obligated to accept whatever duties and obligations the Federal government should demand of them.

In a few months, the Defense Act was scrapped and a draft act was passed. ‘It is a new thing in our history,” said President Wilson, “and a landmark in our progress.” He continued in words that some of the draftees might have hooted at, “It is in no sense a conscription of the unwilling; it is, rather, a selection from a nation which has volunteered in mass.”

Was this a landmark in our progress? Well, sadly enough, it probably was, if war was to be the permanent condition. But what of our long history of fierce defense of civil liberties against the threat of standing armies. Faced with the Kaiser’s armies, the American people simply did not talk about it. They broke a long and honorable historical pattern because they thought they had to. And let it be a part of the record that the intervention of our armies did avert the defeat of the British and French and assured for a short time, how pitifully short,’ the ascendance of the democratic world.

I have traced out one long historical pattern and the breaking of that pattern in the face of war. Let me now trace out another one and its ultimate end. After every bitter experience of the untrained militia and the short-term volunteers, the leaders of the nation tried to get the people to permit them to maintain a small trained army during peacetime. After the Revolution, Hamilton said, “Altho’ a large standing Army in time of Peace hath ever been considered dangerous to the liberties of a Country, yet a few Troops, under certain circumstances, are not only safe, but indispensably necessary.” He then asked for four regiments of infantry and one of artillery or 2,631 men in all. Congress then debated the issue and on June 2, 1784, it directed the discharge of all troops in the service of the United States except for “twenty-five privates to guard the stores at Fort Pitt and fifty-five to guard the stores at West Point, with a proportionate number of officers,” none of whom was to be above the rank of captain. The Congress concluded with what might be called, until recent times, the principle American military axiom: “Standing armies in time of peace are inconsistent with the principles of republican governments.

After the War of 1812, the Congress immediately reduced the army from 38,000 to 10,000 men and in 1820 ordered the Secretary of War to cut it down to 6,000. The cut was made but not even this force could be maintained because enlistments dwindled. This fact pleased William H. Sumner who wrote to President John Adams in 1823, “The militia is intended for defense only; standing armies for aggression as well as defense. The history of all ages proves that large armies are dangerous to civil liberties.”

This pattern continued after the Mexican War and the Civil War. In the first year the latter ended, a million men were mustered out. By 1869, the national army consisted of only 25,000 men and it remained at approximately that strength until the Spanish American War. After World War I, even the pacifistic Wilson was inclined to think that we should maintain a standing army of some size. But the Congress noted that there had been over 11,000 desertions by NCO’s and enlisted men from the Regular Army not to mention the regular resignations. By 1927 the standing Army had dwindled to 120,000 men.

Again after World War II, there was a rush to disarm. Some blamed this on Communist agitation, and quite likely there was some of that. But the hurry to leave when war is over is a long-established American historical pattern. No Communist ever talked to me, and I couldn’t wait to get home.

In any case by 1948 our 13 million troops had shrunk to 1,374,000. In 1948, the military men, quite justifiably alarmed, in my opinion, considering the state of the world, asked for Universal Military Training. Congress, following its historical pattern, refused to grant it but did re-enact Selective Service, and, fearful of a large military establishment, placed a ceiling of 15 billion on military expenditures. By 1950 the Korean War was on and the ceiling was lifted to 60 billion where it has remained ever since. When the Korean War was over, we broke our historical pattern by not demobilizing and by making no cutbacks in military expenditure. In 1951 the Universal Military Training and Service Act was passed. Technically we were not at war and this was then universal peacetime conscription. The Reserve Act of 1955 continues this state of affairs.

I hope it is clear that I am not blaming anyone for all of this. We have had enough loose talk about plots and evil motives without my adding to it. I have tried to show that an open society, fiercely proud of its civil liberties, finally, in the face of external military power and in the face of a great fear which that power engendered, gradually broke many of its own historical patterns concerning the role and function of the military, especially in peacetime.

Again and again we have heard our nation’s leaders say, “This is something new in our history.” And it is this very newness, this lack of experience in living with new conditions, this very uncertainty of trying to establish new patterns in place of broken ones that justifiably makes us all apprehensive.

This, let me repeat, is the principal danger: the establishment of a new source of overwhelming power at the same time in which we have destroyed the historical patterns which have hitherto controlled this power.

First, let us look for a moment at the size of the monster we have made. Last year we collected 78 billion dollars in federal taxes. Of this amount, 46 billion went into defense outlays; veteran’s benefits took 5 billion and the interest on the national debt, which is largely a result of military expenditure, was 9 billion. Perhaps we should add to this 2 billion dollars for foreign aid and we have the total cost of making war or being prepared to make war. It adds up to 62 billion out of the total of 78 billion, or about 80% of our total Federal budget.

Let us see what this means in terms of science. From 1955 until 1959 we spent about 2 billion for scientific research. About 120 million, or six percent, went into basic research. Nearly all of the rest went into military technology.

In addition to these vast expenditures, we are keeping about three million men in uniform. To keep the ranks filled we have laid an eight-year military obligation on all young American males. Industrial corporations have grown proportionately. Of the total military budget of 1961, some 21 billion was spent on procurement. About three-fourths of this staggering total went to 100 corporations. Three corporations got more than a billion each. General Dynamics received 1,26 billion; Lockheed and Boeing each received slightly more than 1 billion. General Electric and North American Aviation received Just under 1 billion.

Please keep in mind that 86.4 per cent of this total was awarded without competitive bidding. So the question naturally arises of influence peddling, of a combine of military-industrial power. The Hebert Investigating Committee in 1959-60 found that more than 1400 retired officers were employed by the top hundred corporations which spent three-fourths of the 21 billion. There were 261 generals or admirals among them. General Dynamics, the corporation that received the largest amount of defense money, also had the largest number of retired officers on its payroll, 187 to be exact, including 27 generals and admirals.

Please understand that I am not making any accusations or even insinuations. I simply point to a dubious situation which we have not yet come to grips with. Surely, all this can make us sympathize with the statement issued by that staunch New Englander, Senator Ralph E. Flanders, Republican of Vermont:

It is not only that we are sacrificing to defense our standard of living and the free independence of our economic life, we are sacrificing our freedom itself. We are being forced to shift the American way of life into the pattern of the garrison state.

I have tried to trace the gradual relinquishment of the dream of an armed citizenry more jealous of its civil liberties than fearful of foreign tyranny, a dream that has gradually and unavoidably faded under the increasing threat of foreign enemies. I have tried to show something new among us, a shift of power so immense, so demanding on our national economy and energy, so all-encompassing in its universal claim on our lives, our loyalties and our liberties that we must at least alert ourselves to the area of danger and try to minimize as best we can the inherent threats to our freedom.

First I should like to take up the problem of the political police. Prolonged international tension provides the rationale for the existence of a political police force, the FBI. That sedition and subversion must be controlled is not, in my judgment, open to question. But unfortunately they cannot be controlled without the use of self-incrimination, condemnation by association, without tests for utterance or received opinion. As Walter Millis has said, “Disloyalty or sedition are matters of the inner mind and emotions, and these are accessible to the investigator in no other way.” And so the government agencies, on numerous occasions, have asked for a prosecution of American citizens, but have been reluctant to produce the accusers in open court or to allow defense counsel to examine the evidence and testimony on which charges were based. The reason for acting in this way was a perfectly logical one. The FBI relies heavily on a system of paid informers. If the identity of these people is disclosed, their usefulness in preventing subversion or sedition is at an end. But if their identity is not disclosed, there results a serious infringement on the rights of individuals, the door is opened to all kinds of abuses, and the entire spirit of the due process of law is compromised.

Naturally the courts sooner or later had to meet this problem and, in a number of important decisions, Parker vs. Lester (Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals) and in the Supreme Court cases of Sweezy, Watkins and Jencks, our Federal judges weighed the extremely critical matter of national security against the extremely critical matter of individual rights. In the Jencks case, they informed the Justice Department, in effect, that they must, if they intended to prosecute, make an open confrontation of accuser and accused in court, that the defense must be able to examine witnesses, and that previous statements of informers (presumably available only in secret files of the FBI) must be made available to the defense. In other words, the courts, in effect, said to the governmental agencies charged with protecting us against subversion, “You must decide whether you will prosecute and by so doing open your files and reveal your sources of information, or whether you will protect those sources and allow a suspected subversive to continue to go free.”

Surely no one will deny that this was a real dilemma, that the requirements of due process hamper the work of our political police in a way that it does not hamper the political police of the Communist state. And so it is not surprising that it was these very decisions, made with a painful awareness of the perils to freedom both from political subversion and from failure to observe due process, that led to the formation of certain private and voluntary political police associations which, without official knowledge or concurrence, and without observing any of the safeguards of due process, collect dossiers on various American citizens and circulate these dossiers sometimes quite indiscriminately to employers, superiors or associates. Generally this is done without observing the most elementary decency of informing the person in question that he is being accused.

The people engaged in this ugly business appear to believe quite sincerely that they are good Americans fostering the liberties of this nations But it is a radically new and menacing development in American life. For centuries it has been known in many lands and under many governments where the people had no adequate protection of the laws. But like Universal Military Training, like standing armies in peacetime, it is something new with us. It is an ancillary development of the garrison state and we ought to oppose it,

The second great point of danger to our liberties as a result of the rise of the garrison state is the massive involvement of the military in domestic politics. Again this is something entirely new, such a radical departure from our historical traditions that I am unable to understand why Americans are not outraged by it.

All over the nation, military commanders are presiding at “seminars” which involve the political indoctrination of civilians. One military commander, General Walker, an admitted member of the John Birch society, tried to influence the voting of his troops. Lieutenant Stephen Huffaker, a native Salt Laker, while in the service gave speeches to more than 60 groups in California. He said, among other things, that his listeners must not believe the American press because it was pro-Communist. It should be noted in passing that Lt. Huffaker had previously worked for the Deseret News and therefore presumably knew at first hand what he was talking about. And he asked these questions:

‘Do you want Federal aid to education? Do you want Federal aid to churches? Do you want socialism?” In other words, he equated a part of the domestic program of this and previous administrations with Communism. Senator Strom Thurmond, who fanatically defends this new role of the military in our national life, has recognized clearly that the military is engaged in domestic politics and he is willing to uphold such engagement. Senator Thurmond himself, incidentally, is a general in the Reserve.

If the military teaches the true nature of communism, it must necessarily teach that communism is fundamentally socialism. When socialism, in turn, is understood, one cannot help but realize that many of the domestic programs advocated in the United States and many of those adopted, fall clearly within the category of socialism. The conclusion is inescapable. Senator Thurmond sees it as the duty of the military to indoctrinate the public in domestic politics. Our founding fathers would have turned over in their graves.

In military-sponsored seminars in Pensacola, San Antonio, Glenview, Illinois, Houston, Texas, Corpus Christi, Texas, as well as other places, rightwing speakers have implied that General George C. Marshall and President Harry Truman were traitors and that those who support the programs and policies of the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations are either pro-Communists or Communist dupes.

To my mind, this involvement of the military in domestic politics is the clearest immediate danger that the vast military establishment poses. How far are we from the situation in Algeria where the French military are engaged in a mutiny against their legal government? I think that we are quite far, and I hope we are, but I also recall that the revolt of the Military Brass against the current attempts of Secretary McNamara to establish authoritatively the civilian supremacy over the military was referred to by Senator Stuart Symington, himself one of our chief advocates of military preparedness, as “a disloyal operation.” Those are ugly words; I hope that they are not true. But of one thing I am sure. The military establishment has no business in domestic politics; it never did; it never will. And the time is now for the kind of emphatic, precedent-setting expression of the national will which will check this one dangerous overflow of power into an area of the national life which has hitherto successfully resisted it.

I should like to point up a profound irony here. Our English and Colonial forefathers feared a standing army because they thought that it could be used to execute the will of a tyrant and deprive citizens of their liberties. But the real danger now is that the military establishment will unite, not with a tyrant, but with the masses, with an irrational political Third Estate. It is the people who threaten the liberties of the people.

Let me define the term “Third Estate”. It originally meant the third of the three classes of people whose consent was necessary for legislation: the nobles, the clergy and the commons. The Commons, in those ancient and desperate times, were not often moved by reason; they were subject to hungers and fears; they understood best what we would call “belly politics.” Their desperations, their irrationalities, their failure to pursue principle or policy and their dogged adherence to their emotional proclivities often earned the contempt of the nobles and the mistrust of the clergy.

We are often misinformed about the extent of the Third Estate among us today. Life magazine noted with some surprise a few years ago that there may be as high as 14 million members of the religious third estate in America, those who are not members of any of the major churches, but who belong, rather, to pentecostal groups who speak in tongues, who thirst for revivalism, who demand the strong wine of miracle and ecstasy, of doom and gore, of cosmic threat and cosmic assurance. And although the boundaries shift, there is also a political third estate, a group profoundly alienated from the major parties from the traditional patterns and from the historical context of the nation.

Among these people there is a high degree of frustration, a readiness to hate, a hunger for scapegoats and sacrificial enemies, a need for the kind of certainty and assurance that only oversimplification can give. At the moment, elements of the military establishment are fervently allied with this political third estate. And there, at the moment, lies the second real danger which we confront as a result of our large military establishment.

I should like to make a little further analysis of our political third estate. The philosophers of existentialism have acquainted us with a new phrase, ” existential anxiety. This existential anxiety they distinguish from ordinary fear. Fear, they say, has an object or an apparent cause. We may fear disease or impotence or especially we may fear death as we discover how brief a moment we have in the sun before we shall all” lie down in darkness”.

Existential anxiety is distinguished from ordinary fear by the fact that it has no apparent object or cause. Or at least we could say this, the sum of our anxiety and fear is greater than the sum of the objects or causes which produce that anxiety. But, unfortunately, it takes a certain intellectual sophistication to grasp such an idea. For people of the Third Estate, fear is very real ; and if fear exists there must be a cause, an object, a reason. And so objects are sought. Now if one were to determine that the chief object of his anxiety were Russia, he might, without being a neurotic, decide to hate Russia, unless of course, by some chance he were a Christian. Then he would need to look for a different solution. But more neurotic solutions would be to find the enemy, not three thousand miles away, but all around you, in the same church, the same school, the same family. We are close to paranoia here as everyone must surely recognize, and it is the people who have adopted this neurotic solution with whom an important segment of the military establishment has chosen to ally itself at this critical moment in our history .

I have pointed out two areas of danger: the rise of political police activity and the involvement of the military in domestic politics. Now I should like to suggest two areas of activity which I think we very much need to strengthen. I cannot, at this time, undertake to say how it will or ought to be done. I shall merely express my feeling that these are directions in which we need to go.

First , I should like to see us encourage and strengthen the religious element in our culture which is generally called the “prophetic” element, that element which stresses the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man; which is wise, tolerant, committed to human and social values and which refuses to accept hatred and total annihilation as the means and end of human endeavor. America has frequently been moved by leaders of the religious Third Estate: Billy Sunday or Amy Semple McPherson, but, as a nation, we have never known what it is to have a living image of a prophetic religion comparable to that which Gandhi provided for the Hindus or Martin Buber for the Jews or Albert Schweitzer for German Protestants. I believe that the religious people of this nation would respond to a sane, kindly, decent and devoted religious leadership which would show us as immediately and as intimately as Gandhi showed his Hindu contemporaries the beauty of holiness, the power of love and the impotence of hate.

Second, I should like to see a recrudescence of the old Puritan virtues. I think I know as well as any man the limitations of the Puritans and the many failures in their character and society. But they held basically to one terrible and magnificent tenet: the individual’s responsibility to his own conscience. And with it there went a sense of vocation, of calling, of stewardship, a feeling that he was engaged in a life fraught with great meaning and that it became him to acquit himself well. It is a slackening in our moral fibre that disturbs me: the high incidence of crime and juvenile delinquency; racketeering in the labor unions; price-fixing in business; payola, the Madison Avenue complex, corruption and greed, the gradual acceptance of the most hideous forms of violence, a gradual acquiescence in the total demands of the garrison state.

We need a re-dedication to humane values, to moral and ethical living, I wish that some Gandhi would arise to lead us, but suspect that he will not, But there is still left for each of us the course of action recommended in an old proverb that came from one of the wisest peoples the world has produced, the Jews. There is an old Rabbinic proverb which says, “Is there need of a man? Be thou that man.”

The Meaning of Scholarship


This speech, originally delivered to honors students in the University of Utah’s Chemistry Department in 1973, was published in the Phi Kappa Phi Journal (Phi Beta Kappa’s national journal) in Summer, 1973. In it, Adamson explores scholarship, both in general and in his own life.  He stresses the necessary blend of imaginative exploration and discipline that the scholar’s enterprise requires. He also comments on how  scholars may be judged:  by whether the new knowledge produced will be responsible for good or evil, which although it may be beyond scholars’ control, makes them vulnerable to assessments conducted by “kindred minds.”

“But [men] should be vulnerable.  That is part of our humanity. It is neither admirable nor courageous to seek invulnerability; a trait for gods, not men.  And even those who flee vulnerability will find it waiting for them in the deepest recesses of their own hearts where judgments may be made that the conscious mind cannot bear.”

The speech also turns to a personal theme that recurs in much of Adamson’s work from the late 1960s and early 70s–his relationship to his sons and by extension to his students and the “younger generation”: and how they helped to reshape his thinking on important issues, most notably the Vietnam War, yet how they are also wrong about a fundamental point: the value of work and discipline.

JHAdamson-Meaning of Scholarship