Reverence is the crown of moral manhood.--C. Kingsley
No man of sound nature ever makes a mock of reverence.--T. T. Munger
True reverence is homage tempered by love.--W. B. Pope
In the full glow of the light of our times, only the pure are really
Reverence is alike indispensable to the happiness of individuals,
families, and of nations.--Smiles
Reverence is a word by itself. It has no synonyms, nor does any other
word in the language exactly fill its place. It is not respect; it is
not regard; it is not fear; it is not honor. Perhaps awe comes nearest
to it; and yet reverence is more than awe. It is awe softened and
refined by gentleness and love.
Reverence is a condition of thought and feeling which does not paralyze
action, but kindles it; does not deaden sensibility, but quickens it.
Even when used in a religious sense, reverence does not stand for
religion itself, but as a means or aid to religious thought and life.
The presence or absence of a reverent spirit is of real importance; for
it adds to, or takes away from, our enjoyment of the world in which we
live. One person finds happiness everywhere and in every occasion;
carrying his own holiday with him. Another always appears to be
returning from a funeral. One sees beauty and harmony wherever he looks,
while another is blind to beauty; the lenses of his eyes seem to be made
of smoked glass, draping the whole world in mourning. While one man sees
only gravel, fodder, and firewood, as he looks into a richly-wooded
park; another is ravished with its beauty. One sees in a matchless rose
nothing but an ordinary flower; another penetrates its purpose, and
reads in the beauty of its blended colors and its wonderful fragrance
the very thoughts of God.
Only the truly reverent soul can catch the higher music of sentient
being, with its joys and hopes; its wealth of earnest, aspiring,
struggling souls; tolerant, serious, yet sunny; and read those larger
possibilities which lie hidden in the great deeps of the most ordinary
While it is true that only the reverent can fully appreciate nature; it
is even more true in regard to human nature. To the reverent mind an old
man or woman is an object of tender regard; while by the irreverent, the
aged are frequently treated with ingratitude, and sometimes even with
One of the lessons most frequently and most strongly impressed upon the
Lacedaemonian youth, was to entertain great reverence and respect for
old men, and to give them proof of it on all occasions, by saluting
them; by making way for them, and giving them place in the streets; by
rising up to show them honor in all companies and public assemblies;
but, above all, by receiving their advice, and even their reproofs,
with docility and submission.
On one occasion, when there was a great play at the principal theater in
Athens, the seats set apart for strangers were filled with Spartan boys;
and other seats, not far distant, were filled with Athenian youth. The
theater was crowded, when an old man, infirm, and leaning on a staff,
entered. There was no seat for him. The Athenian youth called to the old
man to come to them, and with great difficulty he picked his way to
their benches; but not a boy rose and offered him a seat. Seeing this,
the Spartan boys beckoned to the old man to come to them, and, as he
approached their benches, every Spartan boy rose, and, with uncovered
head, stood until the old man was seated, and then all quietly resumed
their seats. Seeing this, the Athenians broke out in loud applause. The
old man rose, and, in a voice that filled the theater, said, "The
Athenians know what is right: the Spartans do it."
The great German thinker, Goethe, claimed that three kinds of reverence
should be taught to youth,--for superiors, for equals, and forinferiors.
This was an advance over the old ideas; but, in a republic
like ours, reverence is not up and down; it is not measured by class
distinctions,--it is a spirit, to be related in sympathetic ways with
all human beings as such; and especially with all whose lives are such
as to command our respect and esteem.
Reverence can be cultivated, and needs to be cultivated in our times.
There is too much mere "smartness" abroad. In society and in the world
we find a flippant, cynical tone; no doubt much of this is reaction from
old-time gloom and severity. But without a reasonable reverence we
cannot have good manners, or loyal citizens, or possessors of really
Reverence is developed by looking for the good in others; by avoiding
fault-finding; by associating with high-minded acquaintances; by reading
worthy literature; by using language unstained by vulgarity; by striving
to enter more and more into the spirit of the noblest lives that come
under our notice.
Reverence, then, is not fear; but wonder, solemnity, and veneration. "It
is to cherish a habit of looking upward, and seeing what is noble and
good in all things." Its blessings are many. By it we can win a masterly
judgment to determine the fitness of behavior and habits; it will keep
us from thoughtless words and deeds; it will make us respectful to old
age and appreciative of the past; and, in many other ways, it will prove
itself of real value to all who cultivate and cherish it.
HENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW.
We select, as our special example, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the best
known of our American poets. The great poet, whoever he may be, is
always reverential. His stanzas are crowned with a sacred seriousness.
He gives to life a "grand, true, harmonic interpretation." Longfellow
was born on the 27th of February, 1807, at Portland, Maine. In his
earlier years he displayed the same gentle, amiable spirit which filled
his after-life with sunshine and goodness.
He proved himself to be possessed of a very bright mind even as a boy,
and entered Bowdoin College when only fourteen years of age. He
afterwards served this same institution as professor of modern
languages, and in 1835 was called to fill a similar position in Harvard
He visited Europe, twice at least, for purposes of study; and, on his
return from his second trip, began that illustrious career of
instruction and authorship which has been the source of so much
honorable pride on the part of his countrymen. Longfellow selected a
historic home in Cambridge; it was the house occupied by Washington
when he took command of the United States Army in 1776,--a spacious
structure, full of welcoming windows, and situated in the midst of old
elms. Here he lived till his death; and now the stretch of land, from
the estate to the river Charles, has been bought and adorned as a
The writings of Longfellow are household possessions, fully as much in
England as in America, and we need not enumerate them. They are famous
not so much for originality, as for their calm, spiritual, purifying
messages. They are full of good-will, aspiration, trust, and real
loftiness of tone. Indeed, Longfellow "loved to make clear his
discipleship to him whose ministry was love, whose flock was all
humanity, whose kingdom was peace and righteousness."
So deep was the impression made by Mr. Longfellow's beauty of character,
that it equaled his literary fame. He always responded to callers, and
they came by hundreds; he never refused his autograph; children loved
him; his charities were manifold; young authors received his
encouragement. Modest as to his own writings, he strove to praise the
good in others. Every one who met him perceived the source of all this
rare grace and fascinating nobility of soul to be a sense of the glory
and divineness of all life. His soul stood in a reverential attitude
toward existence, and a marvelous light shone through him and his
poetry as the result.
Down to the last his pen was active. He died on the 24th of March, 1882.
Degrees and honors had been freely bestowed on him; but the highest
tributes came from his admirers on both sides of the Atlantic; and his
reverential spirit still lives in hundreds of those who read his
[Footnote: See "Life of Longfellow," and "Final Memorials" both by his
brother; Samuel Longfellow, and articles in all the best magazines.]