Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address

Fellow citizens of the United States: in compliance with a custom as old as the government itself, I appear before you to address you briefly and to take, in your presence, the oath prescribed by the Constitution of the United States, to be taken by the President “before he enters on the execution of his office.”

I do not consider it necessary, at present, for me to discuss those matters of administration about which there is no special anxiety, or excitement.

Apprehension seems to exist among the people of the Southern States that by the accession of a Republican administration their property and their peace and personal security are to be endangered. There has never been any reasonable cause for such apprehension. Indeed, the most ample evidence to the contrary has all the while existed and been open to their inspection. It is found in nearly all the published speeches of him who now addresses you. I do but quote from one of those speeches when I declare that “I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.” Those who nominated and elected me did so with full knowledge that I had made this and many similar declarations, and had never recanted them. And, more than this, they placed in the platform for my acceptance, and as a law to themselves and to me, the clear and emphatic resolution which I now read:

“Resolved: that the maintenance inviolate of the rights of the States, and especially the right of each State to order and control its own domestic institutions according to its own judgment exclusively, is essential to that balance of power on which the perfection and endurance of our political fabric depend, and we denounce the lawless invasion by armed force of the soil of any State or Territory, no matter under what pretext, as among the gravest of crimes.”

I now reiterate these sentiments; and, in doing so, I only press upon the public attention the most conclusive evidence of which the case is susceptible, that the property, peace, and security of no section are to be in any wise endangered by the now incoming administration. I add, too, that all the protection which, consistently with the Constitution and the laws, can be given, will be cheerfully given to all the States when lawfully demanded, for whatever cause— as cheerfully to one section as to another.

There is much controversy about the delivering up of fugitives from service or labor. The clause I now read is as plainly written in the Constitution as any other of its provisions:

“No person held to service or labor in one State, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall in consequence of any law or regulation therein be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up on claim of the party to whom such service or labor may be due.”

It is scarcely questioned that this provision was intended by those who made it for the reclaiming of what we call fugitive slaves; and the intention of the lawgiver is the law. All members of Congress swear their support to the whole Constitution—to this provision as much as to any other. To the proposition, then, that slaves whose cases come within the terms of this clause “shall be delivered up”, their oaths are unanimous. Now, if they would make the effort in good temper, could they not with nearly equal unanimity frame and pass a law by means of which to keep good that unanimous oath?

There is some difference of opinion whether this clause should be enforced by national or by State authority; but surely that difference is not a very material one. If the slave is to be surrendered, it can be of but little consequence to him or to others by which authority it is done. And should any one in any case be content that his oath shall go unkept on a merely unsubstantial controversy as to HOW it shall be kept?

Again, in any law upon this subject, ought not all the safeguards of liberty known in civilized and humane jurisprudence to be introduced, so that a free man be not, in any case, surrendered as a slave? And might it not be well at the same time to provide by law for the enforcement of that clause in the Constitution which guarantees that “the citizen of each State shall be entitled to all privileges and immunities of citizens in the several States?”

I take the official oath today with no mental reservations, and with no purpose to construe the Constitution or laws by any hypercritical rules. And while I do not choose now to specify particular acts of Congress as proper to be enforced, I do suggest that it will be much safer for all, both in official and private stations, to conform to and abide by all those acts which stand unrepealed, than to violate any of them, trusting to find impunity in having them held to be unConstitutional.

It is seventy-two years since the first inauguration of a President under our national Constitution. During that period fifteen different and greatly distinguished citizens have, in succession, administered the executive branch of the government. They have conducted it through many perils, and generally with great success. Yet, with all this scope of precedent, I now enter upon the same task for the brief Constitutional term of four years under great and peculiar difficulty. A disruption of the Federal Union, heretofore only menaced, is now formidably attempted.

I hold that, in contemplation of universal law and of the Constitution, the Union of these States is perpetual. Perpetuity is implied, if not expressed, in the fundamental law of all national governments. It is safe to assert that no government proper ever had a provision in its organic law for its own termination. Continue to execute all the express provisions of our National Constitution, and the Union will endure forever—it being impossible to destroy it except by some action not provided for in the instrument itself.

Again, if the United States be not a government proper, but an association of States in the nature of contract merely, can it, as a contract, be peaceably unmade by less than all the parties who made it? One party to a contract may violate it—break it, so to speak; but does it not require all to lawfully rescind it?

Descending from these general principles, we find the proposition that in legal contemplation the Union is perpetual confirmed by the history of the Union itself. The Union is much older than the Constitution. It was formed, in fact, by the Articles of Association in 1774. It was matured and continued by the Declaration of Independence in 1776. It was further matured, and the faith of all the then thirteen States expressly plighted and engaged that it should be perpetual, by the Articles of Confederation in 1778. And, finally, in 1787 one of the declared objects for ordaining and establishing the Constitution was “TO FORM A MORE PERFECT UNION.”

But if the destruction of the Union by one or by a part only of the States be lawfully possible, the Union is LESS perfect than before the Constitution, having lost the vital element of perpetuity.

It follows from these views that no State upon its own mere motion can lawfully get out of the Union; that Resolves and Ordinances to that effect are legally void; and that acts of violence, within any State or States, against the authority of the United States, are insurrectionary or revolutionary, according to circumstances.

I therefore consider that, in view of the Constitution and the laws, the Union is unbroken; and to the extent of my ability I shall take care, as the Constitution itself expressly enjoins upon me, that the laws of the Union be faithfully executed in all the States. Doing this I deem to be only a simple duty on my part; and I shall perform it so far as practicable, unless my rightful masters, the American people, shall withhold the requisite means, or in some authoritative manner direct the contrary. I trust this will not be regarded as a menace, but only as the declared purpose of the Union that it WILL Constitutionally defend and maintain itself.

In doing this there needs to be no bloodshed or violence; and there shall be none, unless it be forced upon the national authority. The power confided to me will be used to hold, occupy, and possess the property and places belonging to the government, and to collect the duties and imposts; but beyond what may be necessary for these objects, there will be no invasion, no using of force against or among the people anywhere. Where hostility to the United States, in any interior locality, shall be so great and universal as to prevent competent resident citizens from holding the Federal offices, there will be no attempt to force obnoxious strangers among the people for that object. While the strict legal right may exist in the government to enforce the exercise of these offices, the attempt to do so would be so irritating, and so nearly impracticable withal, that I deem it better to forego for the time the uses of such offices.

The mails, unless repelled, will continue to be furnished in all parts of the Union. So far as possible, the people everywhere shall have that sense of perfect security which is most favorable to calm thought and reflection. The course here indicated will be followed unless current events and experience shall show a modification or change to be proper, and in every case and exigency my best discretion will be exercised according to circumstances actually existing, and with a view and a hope of a peaceful solution of the national troubles and the restoration of fraternal sympathies and affections.

That there are persons in one section or another who seek to destroy the Union at all events, and are glad of any pretext to do it, I will neither affirm nor deny; but if there be such, I need address no word to them. To those, however, who really love the Union may I not speak?

Before entering upon so grave a matter as the destruction of our national fabric, with all its benefits, its memories, and its hopes, would it not be wise to ascertain precisely why we do it? Will you hazard so desperate a step while there is any possibility that any portion of the ills you fly from have no real existence? Will you, while the certain ills you fly to are greater than all the real ones you fly from—will you risk the commission of so fearful a mistake?

All profess to be content in the Union if all Constitutional rights can be maintained. Is it true, then, that any right, plainly written in the Constitution, has been denied? I think not. Happily the human mind is so constituted that no party can reach to the audacity of doing this. Think, if you can, of a single instance in which a plainly written provision of the Constitution has ever been denied. If by the mere force of numbers a majority should deprive a minority of any clearly written Constitutional right, it might, in a moral point of view, justify revolution—certainly would if such a right were a vital one. But such is not our case. All the vital rights of minorities and of individuals are so plainly assured to them by affirmations and negations, guaranties and prohibitions, in the Constitution, that controversies never arise concerning them. But no organic law can ever be framed with a provision specifically applicable to every question which may occur in practical administration. No foresight can anticipate, nor any document of reasonable length contain, express provisions for all possible questions. Shall fugitives from labor be surrendered by national or State authority? The Constitution does not expressly say. May Congress prohibit slavery in the Territories? The Constitution does not expressly say. MUST Congress protect slavery in the Territories? The Constitution does not expressly say.

From questions of this class spring all our constitutional controversies, and we divide upon them into majorities and minorities. If the minority will not acquiesce, the majority must, or the government must cease. There is no other alternative; for continuing the government is acquiescence on one side or the other.

If a minority in such case will secede rather than acquiesce, they make a precedent which in turn will divide and ruin them; for a minority of their own will secede from them whenever a majority refuses to be controlled by such minority. For instance, why may not any portion of a new confederacy a year or two hence arbitrarily secede again, precisely as portions of the present Union now claim to secede from it? All who cherish disunion sentiments are now being educated to the exact temper of doing this.

Is there such perfect identity of interests among the States to compose a new Union, as to produce harmony only, and prevent renewed secession?

Plainly, the central idea of secession is the essence of anarchy. A majority held in restraint by constitutional checks and limitations, and always changing easily with deliberate changes of popular opinions and sentiments, is the only true sovereign of a free people. Whoever rejects it does, of necessity, fly to anarchy or to despotism. Unanimity is impossible; the rule of a minority, as a permanent arrangement, is wholly inadmissible; so that, rejecting the majority principle, anarchy or despotism in some form is all that is left.

I do not forget the position, assumed by some, that Constitutional questions are to be decided by the Supreme Court; nor do I deny that such decisions must be binding, in any case, upon the parties to a suit, as to the object of that suit, while they are also entitled to very high respect and consideration in all parallel cases by all other departments of the government. And while it is obviously possible that such decision may be erroneous in any given case, still the evil effect following it, being limited to that particular case, with the chance that it may be overruled and never become a precedent for other cases, can better be borne than could the evils of a different practice. At the same time, the candid citizen must confess that if the policy of the government, upon vital questions affecting the whole people, is to be irrevocably fixed by decisions of the Supreme Court, the instant they are made, in ordinary litigation between parties in personal actions, the people will have ceased to be their own rulers, having to that extent practically resigned their government into the hands of that eminent tribunal. Nor is there in this view any assault upon the court or the judges. It is a duty from which they may not shrink to decide cases properly brought before them, and it is no fault of theirs if others seek to turn their decisions to political purposes.

One section of our country believes slavery is RIGHT, and ought to be extended, while the other believes it is WRONG, and ought not to be extended. This is the only substantial dispute. The fugitive-slave clause of the Constitution, and the law for the suppression of the foreign slave-trade, are each as well enforced, perhaps, as any law can ever be in a community where the moral sense of the people imperfectly supports the law itself. The great body of the people abide by the dry legal obligation in both cases, and a few break over in each. This, I think, cannot be perfectly cured; and it would be worse in both cases AFTER the separation of the sections than BEFORE. The foreign slave-trade, now imperfectly suppressed, would be ultimately revived, without restriction, in one section, while fugitive slaves, now only partially surrendered, would not be surrendered at all by the other.

Physically speaking, we cannot separate. We cannot remove our respective sections from each other, nor build an impassable wall between them. A husband and wife may be divorced, and go out of the presence and beyond the reach of each other; but the different parts of our country cannot do this. They cannot but remain face to face, and intercourse, either amicable or hostile, must continue between them. Is it possible, then, to make that intercourse more advantageous or more satisfactory after separation than before? Can aliens make treaties easier than friends can make laws? Can treaties be more faithfully enforced between aliens than laws can among friends? Suppose you go to war, you cannot fight always; and when, after much loss on both sides, an no gain on either, you cease fighting, the identical old questions as to terms of intercourse are again upon you.

This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing government, they can exercise their CONSTITUTIONAL right of amending it, or their REVOLUTIONARY right to dismember or overthrow it. I cannot be ignorant of the fact that many worthy and patriotic citizens are desirous of having the national Constitution amended. While I make no recommendation of amendments, I fully recognize the rightful authority of the people over the whole subject, to be exercised in either of the modes prescribed in the instrument itself; and I should, under existing circumstances, favor rather than oppose a fair opportunity being afforded the people to act upon it. I will venture to add that to me the convention mode seems preferable, in that it allows amendments to originate with the people themselves, instead of only permitting them to take or reject propositions originated by others not especially chosen for the purpose, and which might not be precisely such as they would wish to either accept or refuse. I understand a proposed amendment to the Constitution—which amendment, however, I have not seen—has passed Congress, to the effect that the Federal Government shall never interfere with the domestic institutions of the States, including that of persons held to service. To avoid misconstruction of what I have said, I depart from my purpose not to speak of particular amendments so far as to say that, holding such a provision to now be implied Constitutional law, I have no objection to its being made express and irrevocable.

The chief magistrate derives all his authority from the people, and they have conferred none upon him to fix terms for the separation of the states. The people themselves can do this also if they choose; but the executive, as such, has nothing to do with it. His duty is to administer the present government, as it came to his hands, and to transmit it, unimpaired by him, to his successor.

Why should there not be a patient confidence in the ultimate justice of the people? Is there any better or equal hope in the world? In our present differences is either party without faith of being in the right? If the Almighty Ruler of Nations, with his eternal truth and justice, be on your side of the North, or on yours of the South, that truth and that justice will surely prevail, by the judgment of this great tribunal, the American people.

By the frame of the government under which we live, this same people have wisely given their public servants but little power for mischief; and have, with equal wisdom, provided for the return of that little to their own hands at very short intervals. While the people retain their virtue and vigilance, no administration, by any extreme of wickedness or folly, can very seriously injure the government in the short space of four years.

My countrymen, one and all, think calmly and WELL upon this whole subject. Nothing valuable can be lost by taking time. If there be an object to HURRY any of you in hot haste to a step which you would never take DELIBERATELY, that object will be frustrated by taking time; but no good object can be frustrated by it. Such of you as are now dissatisfied, still have the old Constitution unimpaired, and, on the sensitive point, the laws of your own framing under it; while the new administration will have no immediate power, if it would, to change either. If it were admitted that you who are dissatisfied hold the right side in the dispute, there still is no single good reason for precipitate action. Intelligence, patriotism, Christianity, and a firm reliance on him who has never yet forsaken this favored land, are still competent to adjust in the best way all our present difficulty.

In YOUR hands, my dissatisfied fellow-countrymen, and not in MINE, is the momentous issue of civil war. The government will not assail YOU. You can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressors. YOU have no oath registered in heaven to destroy the government, while I shall have the most solemn one to “preserve, protect, and defend it.”

I am loathe to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

March 4, 1861

The House of Blackness and Darkness

Men like to hear the frailties and faults of others chastised. With what blandness and placidity they sit and hear the religious teacher excoriate the ambition of Ahab, the treachery of Judas, the treason of Athaliah, and the wickedness of the Amalekites. Indeed, I have sometimes felt sorry for the Amalekites, for in all ages, and on all occasions, they are smitten, denounced, and pursued. They have had their full share of censure and excoriation. It is high time that in our addresses in pulpits, and in domestic circles, we turn our attention to the driving out of these worse Amalekites which are swarming in society to-day, thicker than in the olden time. The ancient Amalekites lived for one or two hundred years; but these are not weakened after a thousand years. Those traversed only a few leagues of land; these stalk the earth and ford the sea. Those had each a sword or spear; these fight with a million swords, and strike with a million stings, and smite with a million catastrophes. Those were conquered with human weapons; but to overcome these we must bring out God’s great fieldpieces, and employ an enginery that can sweep from eternity to eternity.

There is one subject which we are expected, in all our teachings, to shun, or only to hint at: I mean the wickedness of an impure life. Though God thunders against this appalling iniquity from the heavens curse after curse, anathema after anathema, by our unwillingness to repeat the divine utterance we seem to say, “Lord, not so loud! Speak about everything else; but if this keeps on there will be trouble!” Meanwhile the foundations of social life are being slowly undermined; and many of the upper circles of life have putrefied until they have no more power to rot.

If a fox or a mink come down to the farmyard and carry off a chicken, the whole family join in the search.

If a panther come down into the village and carry off a child, the whole neighborhood go out with clubs and guns to bring it down.

But this monster-crime goes forth, carrying off body and soul; and yet, if we speak, a thousand voices bid us be silent.

I shall try to cut to the vitals of the subject, and proceed with the post-mortem of this carcass of death. It is time to speak on this subject. All the indignation of the community upon this subject is hurled upon woman’s head. If, in an evil hour, she sacrifice her honor, the whole city goes howling after her. She shall take the whole blame. Out with her from all decent circles! Whip her. Flay her. Bar all the doors of society against her return. Set on her all the blood-hounds. Shove her off precipice after precipice. Push her down. Kick her out! If you see her struggling on the waves, and with her blood-tipped fingers clinging to the verge of respectability, drop a mill-stone on her head.

For a woman’s sin, men have no mercy; and the heart of other women is more cruel than death.

For her, in the dark hour of her calamity, the women who, with the same temptation, might have fallen into deeper damnation, have no commiseration and no prayer.

The heaviest stroke that comes down upon a fallen woman’s soul is the merciless indignation of her sisters.

If the multitudes of the fallen could be placed in a straight line, it would reach from here to the gates of the lost, and back again.

But what of the destroyer?

We take his arm. We flatter his appearance. We take off our hats. He is admitted to our parlors. For him we cast our votes. For him we speak our eulogies. And when he has gone we read over the heap of compost: “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord. They rest from their labors and their works do follow them.”

In the fashionable city to-day there walk a thousand libertines. They are a moving pest. Their breath is the sirocco of the desert. Their bones have in them the decay of the pit. They have the eye of a basilisk. They have been soaked in filth, and steeped in uncleanliness, and consumed in sin, and they are all adrip with the loathsomeness of eternal death. I take hold of the robe of one of these elegant gentlemen, and pull it aside, and say, “Behold a Leper!”

First, if you desire to shun this evil, you will have nothing to do with bad books and impure newspapers. With such an affluent literature as is coming forth from our swift-revolving printing-presses, there is no excuse for dragging one’s self through sewers of unchastity. Why walk in the ditch, when right beside the ditch is the solid flagging? It seems that in the literature of the day the ten plagues of Egypt have returned, and the frogs and lice have hopped and skipped over our parlor tables.

Waiting impatiently in the house of some parishioner, for the completion of a very protracted toilet, I have picked up a book from the parlor table, and found that every leaf was a scale of leprosy.

Parents are delighted to have their children read, but they should be sure as to what they read. You do not have to walk a day or two in an infected district to get the cholera or typhoid fever; and one wave of moral unhealth will fever and blast an immortal nature. Perhaps, knowing not what you did, you read a bad book. Do you not remember it altogether? Yes; and perhaps you will never get over it.

However strong and exalted your character, never read a bad book. By the time you get through the first chapter you will see the drift; If you find the marks of the hoofs of the devil in the pictures, or in the style, or in the plot, away with it. You may tear your coat, or break a vase, and repair them again, but the point where the rip or fracture took place will always be evident. It takes less than an hour to do your heart a damage which no time can entirely repair. Look carefully over your child’s library; see what book it is that he reads after he has gone to bed, with the gas turned upon the pillow. Do not always take it for granted that a book is good because it is a Sunday-school book. As far as possible know who wrote it, who illustrated it, who published it, who sold it.

Young man, as you value Heaven, never buy a book from one of those men who meet you in the square, and, after looking both ways, to see if the police are watching, shows you a book—very cheap. Have him arrested as you would kill a rattle-snake. Grab him, and shout “Police! police!”

But there is more danger, I think, from many of the family papers, published once a week; in those stories of vice and shame, full of infamous suggestions, going as far as they can without exposing themselves to the clutch of the law. I name none of them; but say that on some fashionable tables there lie “family newspapers” that are the very vomit of the pit.

The way to ruin is cheap. It costs three dollars to go to Philadelphia; six dollars to Boston; thirty-three dollars to Savannah; but, by the purchase of a bad paper for ten cents, you may get a through ticket to hell, by express, with few stopping-places, and the final halting like the tumbling of the lightning train down the draw-bridge at Norwalk—sudden, terrific, deathful, never to rise.

O, the power of an iniquitous pen! If a needle puncture the body at a certain point, life is destroyed; but the pen is a sharper instrument, for with its puncture you may kill the soul. And that very thing many of our acutest minds are to-day doing. Do not think that this which you drain from the glass, because it is sweet, is therefore healthful: some of the worst poisons are pleasant to the taste. The pen which for the time fascinates you may be dipped in the slime of unclean literature.

Look out for the books that come from France. It has sent us some grand histories, poems, and pure novels, but they are few in number compared with the nastiness that it has spewed out upon our shore.

Do we not read in our Bibles that the ancient flood covered all the earth? I would have thought that France had escaped, for it does not seem as if it had ever had a thorough washing.

In the next place, if you would shun an impure life, avoid those who indulge in impure conversation. There are many people whose chief mirthfulness is in that line. They are full of innuendo, and phrases of double meaning, and are always picking out of the conversation of decent men something vilely significant. It is astonishing in company, how many, professing to be Christians, will tell vile stories; and that some Christian women, in their own circles, have no hesitation at the same style of talking.

You take a step down hill, when, without resistance, you allow any one to put into your ear a vile innuendo. If, forgetting who you are, any man attempts to say such things in your presence, let your better nature assert itself, look the offender full in the face, and ask—”What do you mean by saying such a thing in my presence!” Better allow a man to smite you in the face than to utter such conversation before you. I do not care who the men or women are that utter impure thoughts; they are guilty of a mighty wrong; and their influence upon our young people is baleful.

If in the club where you associate; if in the social circle where you move, you hear depraved conversation, fly for your life! A man is no better than his talk; and no man can have such interviews without being scarred.

I charge our young men against considering uncleanness more tolerable, because it is sanctioned by the customs, habits, and practices of what is called high life. If this sin wears kid gloves, and patent leathers, and coat of exquisite fit, and carries an opera-glass of costliest material, and lives in a big house, and rides in a splendid turn-out, is it to be any the less reprehended? No! No!

I warn you not so much against the abomination that hides in the lower courts and alleys of the town, as against the more damnable vice that hides behind the white shutters and brownstone fronts of the upper classes.

God, once in a while, hitches up the fiery team of vengeance, and ploughs up the splendid libertinism, and we stand aghast.

Sin, crawling out of the ditch of poverty and shame, has but few temptations; but, gliding through the glittering drawing-room with magnificent robe, it draws the stars of heaven after it.

Poets and painters have represented Satan as horned and hoofed. If I were a poet I should describe him with manners polished to the last perfection, hair flowing in graceful ringlets, eye a little blood-shot, but floating in bewitching languor; hands soft and diamonded; step light and artistic; voice mellow as a flute; boot elegantly shaped; conversation facile, carefully toned, and Frenchy; breath perfumed until it would seem that nothing had ever touched his lips save balm and myrrh. But his heart I would encase with the scales of a monster, then fill with pride, with beastliness of desire, with recklessness, with hypocrisy, with death. Then I would have him touched with some rod of disenchantment until his two eyes would become the cold orbs of the adder; and on his lip would come the foam of raging intoxication; and to his feet the spring of the panther; and his soft hand should become the clammy hand of a wasted skeleton; while suddenly from his heart would burst in crackling and all-devouring fury the unquenchable flames; and in the affected lisp of his tongue would come the hiss of the worm that never dies.

But, until disenchanted, nothing but myrrh, and balm, and ringlet, and diamond, and flute-like voice, and conversation aromatic, facile, and Frenchy.

There are practices in respectable circles, I am told by physicians, which need public reprehension. Herod’s massacre of the innocents was as nothing compared with that of millions and millions by what I shall call ante-natal murders. You may escape the grip of the law, because the existence of such life was not known by society; but I tell you that at last God will shove down on you the avalanche of his indignation; and though you may not have wielded knife or pistol in your deeds of darkness, yet, in the day when John Wilkes Booth and Antony Probst come to judgment, you will have on your brow the brand of murderer.

Hear me when I repeat, that the practices of high life ought not to make sin in your eyes seem tolerable. God is no respecter of persons; and robes and rags will stand on the same platform in the day when the archangel, with one foot on the sea and the other on the land, swears, by Him that liveth forever and ever, that Time shall be no more.

O, it is beautiful to see a young man living a life of purity, standing upright where thousands of other young men fall. You will move in honorable circles all your days; and some old friend of your father will meet you and say: “My son, how glad I am to see you look so well. Just like your father, for all the world. I thought you would turn out well when I used to hold you on my knee. Do you ever hear from the old folks?”

After a while you yourself will be old, and lean quite heavily on your cane, and take short steps, and hold the book off to the other side of the light. And men will take off their hats in your presence. Your body, unharmed by early indulgences, will get weaker, only as the sleepy child gets more and more unable to hold up its head, and falls back into its mother’s lap: so you shall lay yourself down into the arms of the Christian’s tomb, and on the slab that marks the place will be chiselled: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

But here is a young man who takes the other route. The voices of uncleanness charm him away. He reads bad books. Lives in vicious circles. Loses the glow from his cheek, the sparkle from his eye, and the purity from his soul. The good shun him. Down he goes, little by little. They who knew him when he came to town, while yet lingering on his head was a pure mother’s blessing, and on his lip the dew of a pure sister’s kiss, now pass him, and nay, “What an awful wreck!” His eye bleared with frequent carousals. His cheek bruised in the grog-shop fight. His lip swollen with evil indulgences. Look out what you say to him. For a trifle he will take your life. Lower down and lower down, until, outcast of God and man, he lies in the alms-house, a blotch of loathsomeness and pain. Sometimes he calls out for God; and then for more drink. Now he prays; now curses. Now laughs as fiends laugh. Then bites his nails to the quick. Then runs both hands through the shock of hair that hangs about his head—like the mane of a wild beast. Then shivers—until the cot shakes—with unutterable terror. Then, with uplifted fist, fights back the devils, or clutches the serpents that seem winding him in their coil. Then asks for water, which is instantly consumed by his cracked lips. Going his round some morning, the surgeon finds him dead.

Straighten the limbs. You need not try to comb out or shove back the matted locks. Wrap him in a sheet. Put him in a box. Two men will carry it down to the wagon at the door. With chalk, write on the top of the box the name of the exhausted libertine.

Do you know who it is?

That is you, O man, if, yielding to the temptations to an impure life, you go out, and perish.

There is a way that seemeth bright, and fair, and beautiful; but the end thereof is BLACKNESS OF DARKNESS FOREVER.

From Gutenberg: The House of Blackness & Darkness

The Works of Tom Holland

Breaking into the works of popular historian Tom Holland:

  • Athelstan: The Making of England
  • Dynasty: The Rise and Fall of the House of Caesar
  • In the Shadow of the Sword: The Battle for Global Empire and the End of the Ancient World
  • Millennium: The End of the World and the Forging of Christendom
  • The Forge of Christendom: The End of Days and the Epic Rise of the West
  • Persian Fire: The First World Empire and the Battle for the West. New York
  • Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic

Summer reading.