Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 9, No. 55, May, 1862

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Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 9, No. 55,
May, 1862

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Title: Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 9, No. 55, May, 1862
Author: Various
Release Date: April 21, 2004 [EBook #12107]
Language: English
Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1

Produced by Joshua Hutchinson, Tonya Allen and PG Distributed
Proofreaders. Produced from page scans provided by Cornell


* * * * *
VOL. IX.--MAY, 1862.--NO. LV.

* * * * *
A vessel of war leaves its port, but no one on board knows for what
object, nor whither it is bound. It is a secret Government expedition. As
it sets out, a number of documents, carefully sealed, are put in charge
of the commander, in which all his instructions are contained. When far
away from his sovereign, these are to be the authority which he must
obey; as he sails on in the dark, these are to be the lights on the deep by
which he must steer. They provide for every stage of the way. They
direct what ports to approach and what ports to avoid, what to do in
different seas, what variation to make in certain contingencies, and
what acts to perform at certain opportunities. Each paper of the series
forbids the opening of the next until its own directions have been
fulfilled; so that no one can see beyond the immediate point for which
he is making.
The wide ocean is before that ship, and a wider mystery. But in the
passage of time, as the strange cruise proceeds, its course begins to tell
upon the chart. The zigzag line, like obscure chirography, has an
intelligible look, and seems to spell out intimations. As order after
order is opened, those sibyl leaves of the cabin commence to prophesy,
glimpses multiply, surmises come quick, and shortly the whole ship's
company more than suspect, from the accumulating data behind them,
what must be their destination, and the mission they have been sent to
People are beginning to imagine that the career of the human race is
something like this. There is a fast-growing conviction that man has
been sent out, from the first, to fulfil some inexplicable purpose, and
that he holds a Divine commission to perform a wonderful work on the
earth. It would seem as if his marvellous brain were the bundle of
mystic scrolls on which it is written, and within which its terms are
hid,--and as if his imperishable soul were the great seal, bearing the
Divine image and superscription, which attests its Almighty original.
This commission is yet obscure. It has so far only gradually opened to
him, for he is sailing under sealed orders. He is still led on from point
to point. But the farther he goes, and the more his past gathers behind
him, the better is he able to imagine what must be before him. His chart
is every day getting more full of amazing indications. He is beginning

to feel about him the increasing press of some Providential design that
has been permeating and moulding age after age, and to discover that
be has been all along unconsciously prosecuting a secret mission. And
so it comes at last that everything new takes that look; every evolution
of mind, every addition to knowledge, every discovery of truth, every
novel achievement appearing like the breaking of seals and opening of
rolls, in the performance of an inexhaustible and mysterious trust that
has been committed to his hands.
It is the purpose of this paper to collect together some of these facts and
incidents of progress, in order to show that this is not a mere dream, but
a stupendous reality. History shall be the inspiration of our prophecy.
There is a past to be recounted, a present to be described, and a future
to be foretold. An immense review for a magazine article, and it will
require some ingenuity to be brief and graphic at the same time. In the
attempt to get as much as possible into the smallest space, many things
will have to be omitted, and some most profound particulars merely
glanced at; but enough will be furnished, perhaps, to make the point we
have in view.
We may compare human progress to a tall tree which has reared itself,
slowly and imperceptibly, through century after century, hardly more
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