Here, then, is to my mind the true basis of our movement,not the old religions; not religion itself, in the popular understanding of that term; not agnosticism, though as matter of fact some of us may be agnostics ; not science, though the facts of science, every one of them, should have our recognition. It is something deeper and more ancient, I might say, than any of these : it is the rock of conscience, the eternal laws that announce themselves in man's moral nature. Our knowledge may be limited to the senses; but conscience is not knowledge, for knowledge is of what is, and conscience is the thought of what ought to be. It may be that our senses have never revealed to us a perfectly just man; that we have never known or heard of an absolutely just government. None the less does conscience say to every man, " Thou oughtest to be just!" And if it could find voices clear and strong enough, it would publish aloud to every community and every State to-day, " There is no other law for you save that of absolute justice, and in the measure that you fail therein, you have no sanctity and no defence." Conscience, in a word, ushers us into an ideal realm. Genuine ethics have in this respect more in common with art than with science. For true art, I take it, is not minute painstaking photography; it does not consist in rendering an object in the terms of the senses unillumin-ated by the mind, but in catching the idea of the object, so that in witnessing the picture or the statue we seem to feel the flush of the artist's thought, and are touched with the inspiration wherewith he conceived and wrought. If the great master Shakspeare said that the object of his art was simply "to hold the mirror up to nature, to show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure," I must say that ethics is an art of very different character. It holds up the mirror, not of the actual, but of the ideal, that mirror whereby we feel vice to be vice, and know virtue to be virtue, and by which we judge the age and body of the time, and declare what its form and pressure ought to be. It is ideal rather than realistic art to which I would compare ethics, the art revealed in the matchless bearing of an Apollo, in the divine grace of a Venus of Milo, in the majesty of an Angelo's Moses, in the radiant freshness of a Rapha-el's Madonna. These are human, and yet they are more than human; for the artist's thought of the perfect has worked in them, and we feel in looking at them a reflection of that "light which never was on land or sea." Art is the realization of the beautiful; ethics means the realization of the good. As we look on men and women, we see the possibilities of the perfect that are in them, we think of what they are meant to be, rather than of what they are. "We are to regard ourselves and society about us as plastic material, in which the divine ideas of goodness have begun to take form, but have never reached adequate form, and are so hemmed and hindered, that if we judged with the senses alone we might doubt if they existed, and yet to the eye of the soul are still there, and need only to be seen and believed in to again stir and move, and to shape human life to finer forms and nobler issues.
Who as he looks on the face of human society can be content with what he sees there ? Who does not find his notions of justice, of humanity, of the brotherhood in which men ought to live, contradicted ? Who with a conscience or a heart has not felt that this system of things, in which self-interest is not only the impulse but the rule ; in which we consider not so much the rights or claims of men as the extent to which they may serve us and contribute to our own gains; in which any means, any oppression, any grinding down that do not involve open violence or fraud are viewed as legitimate, and something which any one must practise because all do, who, I say, has not felt that this system of things, even though he be a partner in it, is wrong, and longed, as a man in thick darkness longs for light, for some other order of things, in which he should not be compelled to beat back the best and purest impulses of his nature ? The social questions are the questions of the day. And the social questions are fundamentally moral questions ; they involve the relations of man to man, and morality is nothing but an ideal of what the relation between man and man should be. Not the smallest subject, or the merest detail of it, bearing on the rights of human beings is out of the province of a moral teacher. Morality is as wide as humanity; it has a bearing on the whole life of humanity ; it demands nothing less than that every man have at least the means and opportunity for a truly human life. Material interests have a sanctity if they are human interests; the question of wages has a moral bearing if wages mean the substratum of food and drink and clothing and shelter, on which a human being is to build up his higher existence. Education has a moral bearing: the devising and putting into operation a rational and human scheme of education is one of the moral problems of the time. Politics have a moral bearing: the State has no other end than justice and the general good, and justice and the general good are a demand of morality. " Political" life should mean public life, the abandonment of private interests or class interests, and the dedication of one's self to public interests. I know not indeed on what department or phase of life to cast a glance and find that morality has no bearing there. Morality is not a suppliant, a beggar asking for an entrance and protection in one corner of our existence; it is a sovereign, and though it be unheard and unnoticed, prescribes the law and ideal for the whole. It has a bearing on the intellect, and condemns the conscienceless interpretations of great doctrines, the clever playing with words not uncommon in some of our churches. It has a bearing on our domestic life, forbidding that any one should be a slave there. It has a bearing on our pleasures, on our business, on the conduct of the State. It is indeed an invisible companion cleaving to us wherever we go, rising, as a great Englishman1 has said, with us in the morning and going to rest with us at night, and only leaving us as we leave the light of life. A companion do I say ? Ah, it is closer than any companion, for though it warns us and commands us, it does so in that supreme act in which we warn and command ourselves; it is the utterance of the God in us, of the " prophetic soul" in which we all share, and signifies that we are part and parcel of another order of things than that which we can see and handle, and are rooted in somewhat firmer than the earth, and more ancient, more venerable than the heavens. To get a new sense of this inward monitor; to feel that its demands are beyond any mere traditional rules of goodness, that it means not this or that good thing, but all good; to have thus an infinite horizon open to our view, and to feel that a path of ceaseless progress lies before us, this is to me the aim and significance of the Ethical Movement.