Here’s a beautiful letter written by Mark Twain to American poet Walt Whitman, on the occasion of Whitman’s seventieth birthday. It was in 1889.
After some intense calculations, I figured out that 1889 was at the end of the nineteenth century. A time, so I have heard, of great optimism about the future that humans will inaugurate, with the aid of science and technology.
It’s one thing to hear this, another again to see primary evidence. Twain’s letter is very clear evidence.
Twain lists many advances seen in Whitman’s 70 year span of life: “… the electric light, the sewing machine, & the amazing, infinitely varied & innumerable products of coal tar …”
But even better, says Twain, will be what happens in the next 30 years.
Wait thirty years, & then look out over the earth! You shall see marvels upon marvels added to these whose nativity you have witnessed; & conspicuous above them you shall see their formidable Result — Man at almost his full stature at last! — & still growing, visibly growing while you look.
It’s messianic in tone.
Wait till you see that great figure appear, … him [ie, humanity] for whom the earth was made
Just 30 years to go until the inherent goodness of humanity will be proven as more enduring than any wrongness!
These 30 years, of course, take us to 1919. The brutal folly and horror of World War I is barely over. The coming settlement will firmly establish the pre-conditions to replace peace with World War II.
Human optimism is always exciting at the planning stage. Always depressing in hindsight.
For God alone my soul waits in silence, from him comes my salvation …
For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him
(Psalm 62:1, 5)
(I apologise for the terrible pun that forms the title of this post.)