The modern Christian is a man who has consented to say all the prayers in the liturgy, provided you will let him go straight to bed et sleep quietly afterward. All his prayers begin with "Now I lay me down to sleep. Although willing after a fashion to perform certain long-established charities, he "does not wish to hear of any new-fangled ones; he doesn't wish to have any supplementary articles added to the contract, to fit it to the present time.
Like Ruskin who charges in "Traffic" that the contemporary Christian is a Christian only in church, Thoreau mocks him for showing the "whites of his eyes on the Sabbath, et the blacks all the rest of the week" Thoreau in fact occasionally holds that any established faith must be an inauthentic, purely nominal one in the nineteenth century:. Really, there is no infidelity, now-adays, so great as that which prays, et keeps the Sabbath, et rebuilds the churches The church is a sort of hospital for men's souls, et as full of quackery as the hospital for their bodies.
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Those who are taken into it live like pensioners in their Retreat or Sailor's Snug Harbor, where you may see a row of religious cripples sitting outside in sunny weather. A somewhat different form of satiric definition appears in "Slavery in Massachusetts," which uses a fairly straightforward examination of the meaning of the word governor to set in motion a series of contrasts between ideal et actual, theory et practice. In particular, this prophetic attack upon contemporary iniquity contrasts what a governor of Massachusetts is supposed to do — enforce all the laws, including those that protect everyone in the state — with the present governor's failure to perform these duties by permitting someone living in the state to be returned to southern slavery.
This examination of the term governor is part of Thoreau's main or underlying point that the seizure of a single person of another race is not only relevant to the lives of every member of his audience but centrally so since the act directly limits et threatens their own freedom. This exercise in definition produces a second implication as well: Since the governor, the chief executive officer of Massachusetts, did not guard the rights of one who lived in his domain, he has therefore proved himself not to be a governor at all, et therefore, Thoreau implies, he has forfeited the obedience due one.
Thoreau begins his definition by taking the satirist's pose of the ingenuous novice the honorable, childlike idealist who believes all he is told. Perhaps I do not know what are the duties of a Governor; but if to be a Governor requires to subject oneself to such much ignominy without remedy, if it is to put a restraint upon my manhood, I shall take care never to be Governor of Massachusetts" Much in the manner of Evangelical ministers et writers of tracts, he thus proceeds by claiming that the governor is a false governor, not a true one — a governor in name only, not in act.
Thoreau relates that when he searches for a governor, he only finds an empty simulacrum, a shell, a pageant-governor:.
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I listen to hear the voice of a Governor, Commander-in-Chief of ; the forces of Massachusetts. I hear only the creaking of crickets et the hum of insects which now fill the summer air. The Governor's exploit is to review the troops on muster days. I have seen him on horseback, with his hat off, listening to a chaplain's prayer. It chances that is all I have ever seen of a Governor.
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I think that I could manage to get along without one. If he is not of the least use to prevent my being kidnapped, pray of what important use is he likely to be to me? When freedom is most endangered, he dwells in the deepest obscurity. Even before pointing out that the governor who does not defend one's freedom does nothing, Thoreau implicitly defines him as one who does nothing while simultaneously mocking another group he takes to be respectable do-nothings: "A distinguished clergyman told me that he chose the profession of a clergyman because, it afforded the most leisure for literary pursuits.
I would recommend to him the profession of a Governor" As these examples reveal, Thoreau combines straightforward acts of definition with those of a satirical nature. Having first stated the true meaning of a central term, he then mocks those who have not lived up to it. The implication of such a manner of proceeding is, once again, that the speaker, the definer of important terms, resides at the center of meaning. He alone knows what things mean. He also sees clearly enough to warn others that they have fallen away from the ways of God et nature. To find that way, claims Thoreau the sage, his audience must first understand the true meaning of words, et therefore he begins with the word governor et follows this definition with others, such as slavery, which are even more central to his argument.
By the time that Thoreau has finished attacking the governor of Massachusetts with this satirically employed definition, he has transformed him, his office, et the element of sham they share into a grotesque metonymy of his age et nation.
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Thoreau 's entire strategy here seems to derive from Carlyle's French Revolution , which explains that central phenomenon of modern history as the necessary purgation of government that does not govern. This thematized technique of contrasting definition et actions that fail to match it derives in turn from the common Evangelical Protestant distinction between practical or practicing et nominal religion spread by William Wilberforce's enormously popular devotional work A Practical View of the Prevailing System of Professed Christians, in the Higher et Middle Classes in this Country, Contrasted with Real Christianity , commonly known as Practical Christianity.
The Victorian sages use the distinction between practical et nominal religious, moral, et political belief for powerfully satiric effects. For example, in "Traffic," after Ruskin has instructed his audience that a nation's architecture inevitably expresses its basic attitudes et beliefs, he explains those implicit in Greek, medieval, et renaissance styles et then asks, "Will you tell me what we worship, et what we build?
You know," he confides to his audience, "we are speaking always of the real, active, continual national worship; that by which men act, while they live; not that which they talk of, when they die" According to Ruskin,. And we dispute a great deal about the nominal religion: but we are all unanimous about this practical one; of which I think you will admit that the ruling goddess may be best generally described as the 'Goddess of Getting-on', or 'Britannia of the Market"' When Ruskin thus defines the religious faith of his Midlands audience, emphasizing that he seeks an essential, not superficial, meaning of the term, he obviously follows William Wilberforce's method, one with which his audience would have been very familiar.
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