"Do you think the safe and quiet times in a countries history, when risk is absent and ease secured, that this is what cut the distinctive lines into their character, and gave them a place in history books? On the contrary, it is in the days of peril, in the crises of anguish, that the force of character steps forth and establishes itself, and under some high and daring guidance, finds a footing upon the rock and retakes the stronghold of hope. And what might historians write if all was calm and peaceful, what would the poet write and sing without the material of great actions; and what would philosophers speak if the problems of the world were but the sleepy experience of men? Rather, it is tyrannies, invasions and the shame of spreading corruption that noble protests arouse and the deeds of heroism came.
Of every great City, the memorials of fallen heroes and the trophies of dread strife are among the chief works of art. Every legislative hall is guarded by the figures of those who once braved the dangers of their country's darkest hours.
In every national tradition, the popular favorite is the captive king, the chained patriot, and the unflinching martyr.
And if it is the great crises of peril that, as they are passing, train a people's character, so it is their reflection in literature, that ages after they are gone, still spreads and perpetuates the ennobling influence. The inspiration that descends on us from the Past, and makes us heirs of accumulated thought and enriched affections, --- from whom does it chiefly come from? Is it from the uniformly happy and the untempted good? Those who have most realized the lot for which our sensual and intellectual instincts cry aloud? No: but from the central figures of the great tragedies of our humanity; from the conquerors of desolating monsters; from the creators of Law and tamers of the people; from love beyond death, that carried its plaintive music to the shades, from the avengers of wrong; from the martyrs of right; from missionaries of mercy; from the pass of Thermopylae; or from the cross of Calvary. A world without a contingency or an agony could have no hero and no saint, and enable no Son of Man to discover that he was a Son of God.
There is no Epic of the certainties, and no lyric without the surprise of sorrow and the sigh of fear. Whatever touches and ennobles us in the lives and in the voices of the past is a divine birth from human doubt and pain. Let then the shadows lie, and the perspective of the light still deepen beyond our view; else, while we walk together, our hearts will never burn within us as we go; and the darkness, as it falls, will deliver us into no hand that is Divine."
James Martineau, photo by Sara Treanor.