Open main menu

Page:Earth-Hunger and Other Essays.djvu/238

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.


AN EXAMINATION OF A NOBLE SENTIMENT

A noble sentiment is a very noble thing when it is genuine. A soul which would not throb in response to a noble sentiment, if it were genuine, would prove that it was base and corrupt. On the other hand, a noble sentiment, if it is not genuine, is one of the most corrupting things in the world. The habit of entertaining bogus sentiments of a plausible sound, deprives both mind and heart of sterling sense and healthful emotion. It is no psychological enigma that Robespierre, who was a hero of the eighteenth-century sensibilit├ę, should have administered the Reign of Terror. People who gush are often most impervious to real appeals, and to genuine emotion. It therefore seems that we must be on our guard against pretended noble sentiments, as against very dangerous pitfalls, and test them to see whether they are genuine or not.

The sentiment which I now propose to examine is this: that we ought to see to it that every one has an existence worthy of a human being, or to keep it in the form in which it is offered, a menschenw├╝rdiges Dasein. It is not a matter of accident that it is stated in German. A noble sentiment often loses poetry and transcendental solemnity to such an extent, when translated into everyday English, that it might seem like begging the question of its truth and value to translate it.

The first question is: what is an existence worthy of a human being? The hod-carrier, who is earning a dollar a day, will say that it is what he could get for a dollar