Saturday, May 13, 2006

Moral Dread

His mind was destitute of that dread which has been erroneously decried as if it were nothing higher than a man's animal care for his own skin: that awe of Divine Nemesis which was felt by religious pagans, and, though it took a more positive form under Christianity, is still felt by the mass of mankind simply as a vague fear at anything which is called wrong-doing. Such terror of the unseen is so far above mere sensual cowardice that it will annihilated that cowardice: it is the initial recognition of a moral law restraining desire, and checks the hard bold scrutiny of imperfect thought into obligations which can never be proved to have any sanctity in the absence of feeling. "It is good," sing the old Eumenides, in Aeschylus, "that fear should sit as the guardian of the soul, forcing it into wisdom--good that men should carry a threatening shadow in their hearts under th full sunshine; else, how shall they learn to revere the right?" That guardianship may become needless; but only when all outward law has become needless--only when duty and love have united in one stream and made a common force.

This is from my favorite George Eliot novel: Romola, Chapter XI. The reference is to Aeschylus's Eumenides.

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