A Word On Pronouns
The Path, October, 1887
(The following is from one Frances Ellen Burr.
The “Note” following it is from the pen of Mr. Judge.—ED.)
It is claimed that civilization cannot alter the nature of the savage. If there be any withdrawal of the restraining influences of civilization, his tendency is inevitably “back to the blanket,” and to snake-worship, or whatever form of worship his ancestors may have been given to. This desire to fall down and worship something, or somebody, appears to be one of the proclivities of the human mind not to be eradicated,—not in this age, at least. It was born in the blood, and does not seem to have been civilized out of it, whether the blood be black or white. Carlyle calls it “hero-worship.”
These reflections were started by seeing the personal pronouns of the Himalayan Brothers printed with “caps,” as the printers say. As, in their case, the name “Brothers” has become a proper name, it may legitimately be capitalized to distinguish it from the name of any, or all other brothers; but why capitalize their pronouns? Those referring to Christ are usually printed with caps, but it would seem much better to omit them. Can a capital letter add to his glory, or the absence of it detract therefrom? Neither does it add to that of the Himalayan Brothers. The only thing is does do is, in some sort of fashion, to gratify the craving of the human heart to worship in some way, even if it be only the weak sort of adoration expressed through an enlarged letter. These Brothers themselves, if they are what they are represented, would, I fancy, look upon these capitalized pronouns (if their attention were called to them at all) with a smile of pity for this desire to worship and adore. They, of all others, would not wish this empty honor. The higher one rises in the scale of life, the farther the desire for worship and empty honors recedes from him or her. Let us honor all true worth and nobility of character, but never “crook the pregnant hinges of the knee” to any. The Brothers on the Asiatic mountains are simply human like the rest of us, for have we not all within us the promise and the potency of that higher life which awaits but our self-sacrificing efforts to develop it? While we all have the germs of adept-hood within us, but few have the character to lead a life that shall bring it out. And so we may justly honor those who do succeed, but the silly worship of the past let us strive to out grow.
FRANCES ELLEN BURR
NOTE—We hare printed the above because the subject has been referred to before by us, and we think the ideas expressed are of some importance-to students, but not to the “Brothers” spoken of by the writer. We distinctly disagree with Miss Burr when she describes the capitalizing in PATH or elsewhere of the pronouns used for the “Brothers” as “hero worship,” and also with her suggestion that the use of such capitals shall be dispensed with. Her article has not been thus disfigured, since she herself omitted the caps. Nor can we agree that the Adepts referred to are, as she says, “simply human like the rest of us,” for that statement is too Americanly independent for us to adopt it, and also somewhat wide of the mark.
True independence we believe in, but no in that sort which, merely from the influence of ideas of political freedom based on theoretical equality, causes a man to place himself on such an equal footing with others that he will not accord to beings infinitely beyond him in degree the highest marks of respect.
Sages do not concern themselves with small questions of etiquette or address, but that should not prevent us when we write to each other of those sages from capitalizing the pronouns used. Every one is at liberty to do this if he pleases, or to refrain; and we have no blame to attach. But the Adepts, while human, are not “simply like the rest of us.” The highest divine being is truly a human ego in perfection, but the difference between the state of such an ego and these lower unperfected human gods is beyond our power to measure. And the difference is so great that the writer’s second last sentence should be altered to read that, “while a few amongst tens of thousands have the power to strive for Adeptship, hardly one in all those thousands is able to comprehend the Mahatma as He is.”