"A man's wisdom is measured by his hope." I used to puzzle over this aphorism cited to me years ago by a choice poet of the last generation, Florence Earle Coates, then in an advanced age, recently widowed, and going blind...
|Birch Island, Upper St. Regis Lake|
...I learned how hope could conquer circumstance
And vault the phantom barriers of time,
I learned to mock the incidence of chance
And wait each true conjunction at its prime...
...And through the somber western copses driven
The fires of sunset pierced that nether grove
Where loitering spirits, chastened and new shriven,
Won absolution by a lake of love...
...And after purgatorial pains and trial
Took convalescence in that dim asyle.
|"Camp Elsinore," Upper St. Regis Lake.|
The saying ["A man's wisdom is measured by his hope"], affirmed out of adversity, suggested a triumphant insight directed against shallow wisdoms characterized by "realism" or cynicism. It seemed to say: the greater the hope, the greater the wisdom. The man with little hope or fluctuating hope was the fool, no doubt because he was blind to the true character of a situation, blind to the dynamic processes of good at work. As Jesus said to the Sadducees: "Ye know not....the power of God." Hopelessness is ignorance.
|Letter to Mr. Wilder where Coates speaks of "a man's wisdom."|
The aphorism spoken of by Mrs. Coates to Mr. Wilder likely springs from a sentiment expressed by Ralph Waldo Emerson; for in a tribute piece to Matthew Arnold in the April 1894 issue of The Century Magazine, Mrs. Coates cites Arnold citing Emerson:
[Emerson] says himself: "We judge of a man's wisdom by his hope, knowing that the perception of the inexhaustibleness of nature is an immortal youth". . . His abiding word for us, the word by which being dead he yet speaks to us, is this: "That which befits us, embosomed in beauty and wonder as we are, is cheerfulness and courage, and the endeavor to realize our aspirations." One can scarcely overrate the importance of thus holding fast to happiness and hope. It gives to Emerson's work an invaluable virtue. . . . Carlyle's perverse attitude toward happiness cuts him off from hope. He fiercely attacks the desire for happiness. He is wrong; "We judge of a man's wisdom by his hope." . . . Wise men everywhere know that we must keep up our courage and hope...Also see: Amos N. Wilder on the "revisioning of the world" after WWI