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Last Letters From The Living Dead Man
THE IDEAL OF SUCCESS
June 23, 1917.
fear out of your hearts. The future will give you no greater lessons than
you can master. It is not well to know the future in complete detail. Had
the world known during the last ten years all it would be obliged to suffer
in this war, would it have made the progress it has made in art, science and
commerce? No. Every thought would have been haunted.
You may say that the weaker races (and the stronger ones) would
have made better preparation. But a part of this lesson has been not to
delay inevitable preparation, and to know in future that a nation which
idealizes war and is mostly army, has not cultivated that ideal and that
army solely for its own amusement.
If you want to understand national life and
individual life, you must look for their dominating ideals. An ideal is a
the dominating ideal of America? Summed in a word, it is success, is it not? Now
America is in a great war, and you may be sure that she will leave nothing
undone that can make for success in that war, as she has left nothing undone
that could make for success in business.
Take your own case. What are your dominating ideals and
tendencies? You would say, off-hand, work and study and intellectual
companionship, would you not? Very well. As to work, do not fear a future in
which good work is pretty sure of at least a living wage. Study? There will
always be books to feed your hunger for reading. Companionship? There are
too many lonely souls in the world for you ever to be lonely.
What else? You lift your pencil and think.
. . . That is about all, is it not?
Now let us return to America. America is not—has not been—a warlike nation,
except when threatened by injustice, to herself or others. Will she lose
this war? I think not.
But there will be complexities regarding the end of this war.
I want to refer to something I said in a recent letter, that we were
organizing on this side of the airy frontier for work for the future of
I have spoken of the Genius of this land, a composite entity you may call
it, if your imagination is not equal to the task of seeing that you—all of
you—are cells in the body of the Genius of America.
Now the Genius of this land
has glorious purposes, and she uses you—all of you—for her purposes, as you
use the cells of your body, as you are using at this moment the aggregation
of cells that form the hand with which you hold your pencil.
In registering yourselves at the call of your country, you are affirming
your acceptance of the office of cells in the great body of her. Some of you
she must sacrifice in the war for the welfare of the whole, as every day
cells die and are born in the body of man, the microcosm.
Extend the idea to the whole human race, and the figure will be still more
apt. The genius of the race is suffering now. The process will ultimate in a
more perfect health.
You perhaps protest that many
of those who are dying are the flower of the race, the young, the fitted to
survive. But do you not remember that their souls survive? The essential
part of them is not lost, but set free for a greater work. Have you
considered that earth-life may be the dream, and the life after death the
waking? Sages have considered it before you, and accepted the possibility.
Out here we are hopeful, and very busy. It is because I am so busy that I
come to you only occasionally. Do not hurry me, for I do not hurry you.
We have problems to solve out here. As I have said, one of our problems is
the great number of Indian souls, red men souls, who went out of life with
resentment and revenge in their hearts for the elimination of their race by
the white man in America.
Somehow we must placate them,
and enlist them on your side. Otherwise they may be a dangerous element for
the future. Some of them would like to see your civilization destroyed, as
theirs was destroyed, and a few of them are strong enough to do real harm.
The best way to make an enemy harmless is to understand his peculiar
qualities, to learn something from the frankness of his enmity, to turn away
evil by letting it go off at a tangent. But the Indian souls are not famous
for their frankness. Even with me they sometimes conceal their
resentment—deep, fundamental—at the “theft,” as they feel it, of the land
where they once roamed in freedom.
I advise America to cultivate the free life of the open. I have advised you
in a former book that the old woodcraft should be resuscitated and taught to
the children. There may come a time when the rudiments of this knowledge
will be useful to many of you.
Great changes are coming in
the world, a period of adjustment to new conditions. There is a restless
element in all adjustment, and national restlessness is like that of
puberty; it needs to be minimized by healthful outdoor play, or by work
which masquerades as play.
The future will take from the present those elements that are most important
Do not fear that we shall return to the Dark Ages. Oh, no. We are going into
a Light Age. It is only twilight now.