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ART. VI. -THE ATLANTIC TELEGRAPH.
Report of the Proceedings at a Banquet given to Mr. Cyrus W. Field by the Chamber of Commerce of New York, Nov. 15, 1866. pp. 94.
THE city of New York has done itself honor, in so conspicuous a reception of one of its greatest benefactors. On both sides of the water, Mr. Field is recognized as the man without whom the Atlantic Cable would not have been laid in our generation. He has, therefore, a rightful claim to the foremost place in the gratitude and honor of the world, specially of his fellow-citizens. No one can read his speech at the Banquet without feeling its truthfulness and magnanimity, nor without plainly recognizing the personal qualities which enabled him to achieve his grand success.
The city of New York has twice emphasized its sense of the world-wide significance of the Atlantic Cable,- once, and most magnificently, when, in 1858, it welcomed Mr. Field, after the temporary success of that year; and now again, when permanent success may be deemed secure, with two cables in daily improving action between the Continents.
Great cities are the centres and sources of civilization, and their condition affords the best indications of the present state and prospects of humanity.
To return to cities, from the sparse settlements of a new country, is to return to multitudes. Here it is that the masses are seen in their density, and felt in their power for good and for evil. Our great common humanity, in its average quality and condition, in bodies too large to allow individual tastes and opinions much influence, in a current too strong to suffer much restraint from the feeble resistance of any superior class, there passes before us. A great city is a majestic spectacle at any time, for it is the house of an enormous family; but far beyond any vision of vastness or splendor or beauty in the municipal house itself is the sight of those who built, who occupy, who own it. No one can long be content
to look at the marble walls that embank the Broadway of our American metropolis, while the captivating stream of human faces is running through it. The ordinary tide of humanity that ebbs and flows in that channel is, of all the constant curiosities the world affords, the most astonishing, the most untiring. Niagara has no rapids so dazzling, no roar so deafening, no rainbow so gay, no current so solemn, no significance so sublime. But when this daily phenomenon of the densest and busiest multitude in the world is raised to its highest possibility by some extraordinary summons of the people; when the country is poured into the town, the suburbs into the centre; when labor, released from its dispersing duties, is crowded into the public thoroughfares, and the population of States is compressed within the area of a capital, — then the constellations of the clearest night are not so beautiful, the waves of the wildest ocean not so sublime, nor all else that heaven and earth can congregate so exciting and tremendous, as the prospect. There is no spectacle equal to that of a countless multitude of human beings. What splendor of military trappings, what marshalling of significant chariots of industry, what gay, curious, meaningful procession, winding its mottled way, like a vast iris-hued serpent, through enamelled streets, such as we have seen in public processions on days of high festival,-vies in interest for every eye with that motionless mass, the magnificent, the overpowering crowd, that forms the ground of its display and the field of its progress? What can the torch-lights of ten thousand men, blazing with scarlet and with fire, illumine, which is like in beauty and splendor to their own faces, and the eyes of the myriads of lookers-on? We have seen the upturned countenances of a hundred thousand people, crowded on a hill-side, lighted up, and condensed into one awful and glorious picture, by the attractive art of the pyrotechnist; and not all the resources of his magical skill, in its most dazzling crises of splendor, could win our eyes away from the spectators to the spectacle. Man is ever God's greatest work, and the multitude ever the sublimest sight for human eyes.
In all ages, the multitudes have been objects of peculiar and mysterious interest to men, and strictly so in proportion to the capacity and insight of those who have contemplated them. But this interest has been of very different and widely contrasted kinds. Always intense, it has commonly been painful and alarming. For ages, men in general were regarded hardly as more than finer animals, capable of a superior mischief; creatures that were either to be intimidated or tamed, as their rulers chanced to be better supplied with force or with guile. The only expedient of governors was to turn the passions of one multitude against the passions of another, or one passion of the same multitude against another passion of its own. Thus natural ferocity was converted into the art of war; jealousy and envy, into pride of country and hatred of rival powers; sloth and apathy, to the account of those willing to substitute their own thinking and their own energy for that of the masses, and make them the tools of their ambition.
Thus multitudes have awed, crushed, and restrained each other, for the benefit of the few, who made themselves exceptional to the mass. Any self-directing power, any intelligent sense of community, any essential worth and goodness in men as men, any right of the race as a race to possess, enjoy, and govern the world, did not enter into the head of antiquity, if we except a few theoretical philosophers. Accordingly, the very name of the people was a reproach and an alarm. Oi óo, the many, was a monster, either a stupid and loathsome, or a ferocious and fearful one, as climate and age affected him. Our most opprobrious appellation - the mob - is altogether too dignified a word for the ideas associated with the mass of human creatures before our Saviour's day; and, indeed, out of the narrow circle of his true disciples long after. Hordes, hvies, herds, the spawn of the teeming swamps, the litter of the rank fens, these terms expressed the prevailing sense of the commonness, the miserable origin, the hopeless character, the alarming increase, of their own kind. "Mob" is a word of much less contemptible import. It suggests the existence of some slight concert and design, hides
a struggling sense of political aspirations, and hints the possibility of good neighborhood and peaceful relations between an existing civil order and itself. From "scum" and "herd” and "horde" to "mob," from "mob" to "mass," from "the masses" to "the people," from "the people" to "the race," from "race" to "brotherhood," we have a regular ascending series of terms, recording the historic progress of the multitudes as plainly as the geological strata do the history of the earth's advance to a habitable condition. And it is easy to gauge the social and Christian status of any community, by observing the ordinary and spontaneous use of the terms in which the multitude is spoken of, and in which it speaks of itself.
The great peculiarity of ante-Christian days was this: the multitudes were despaired of, and therefore both feared and despised. They were, it is true, courted by the ambitious, flattered by the cunning, but still feared and despised at once by the upper classes. All that we recognize in these days as philanthropy, a feeling and principle based upon a conviction that the condition of the masses is the fruit of unhappy and discouraging circumstances, which may be removed or relieved, with a certainty of improving their condition and character, this was unknown. It was not that the intelligent and superior classes in those days were less well-disposed, more selfish or cruel, than we are. But the relative proportion of the civilized and the uncivilized, the educated and the uneducated, the rich and the poor, was so much less favorable to hope, that the problems then offered to the wise and good were totally different from ours, and utterly appalling. It was inconceivable then that men everywhere could become educated, civilized, and sensible of the advantages of morality. The very fact of the unknown geography, the imperfect navigation, the slow and difficult intercourse, of ancient times fostered continual fears of possible eruptions of barbarians, first realized, indeed, in the destruction of the Roman empire, but always operating to prevent any generous hope of the common elevation of the race. The absence of any general commerce, with a total ignorance of
the very name of political economy, rendered precarious supplies of food a proper ground of jealousy and dread,—a fear which is one of the most active and steady causes of hostility and division among men. Nations could not afford to be at peace with their rivals in the corn markets; it was a matter of life and death who had possession of the fertile fields and so war, jealousy, and hatred seemed a necessary, and even a justifiable and statesmanlike, policy in the conduct of public affairs, and the relation of states with each other.
When our Saviour appeared, his most affecting and characteristic quality was the new feeling with which he regarded the multitude. Objects of lively interest were the multitude, indeed, to the princes and rulers of those days. Herod did not dare, until lust and wine had driven him beyond reason, to behead John; for he feared the people. The chief priests and scribes did not dare to lay hands on Jesus till they were backed by the Roman governor, for the same reason, that they feared the people, who had instinctively felt that they had found a friend in our Saviour. But it was not FEAR, but compassion, an entirely different kind of interest, that Christ was to manifest towards them. For, in the language of St. Matthew, "when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd."
The grounds of our Saviour's compassion are, it is worthy of notice, the very grounds of the fear entertained towards the people by his predecessors and contemporaries. Because they fainted with hunger, were maddened with unsatisfied appetite, and driven to reckless and ferocious ways, — this, which moved the dread of them, and an ever-watchful and armed resistance to their gatherings and their demands, was the first spring of our Saviour's compassion for them. True, he who could multiply the loaves and fishes miraculously for its relief had less to fear from the rage of hunger than the commissaries of mere human princes. But Christ distinctly recognized want as the first cause of compassion for the people. This was their first, great misfortune, overshadowing all others, causing their degradation, and making